In New York, positioned at the epicenter of the pandemic, it’s no surprise that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is lighting up so brightly on the radar screen. We have been humbled and chastened by this pandemic, and we await and prepare for nature’s own version of that humbling: winter itself.
In this Twilight Zone episode of a year, it’s been no great shock that many of my patients have become obsessed with the dying of the light. Even those who have never complained of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) are talking about it.
If it has been creeping up in your conversations too, here are some reasons why and some tips to help you get through it more comfortably.
Lockdown & Mortality
We are feeling and thinking SAD now because winter is yet another impending lockdown, one, however, that feels more natural than COVID. Winter represents the most basic and necessary lockdown of all. A time of hibernation and seeming death, we brace for it like the whisper of our own mortality.
But here's the good news. Talking about SAD is a healthy, collective defense mechanism for dealing with the harsh realities of a global pandemic and climate change. It is a way of finding expression for the urgency of these collective issues, and also provides some solace. If we can focus and maybe even obsess about this most natural and healthy darkness, maybe it will help us through these other dystopian ones. If we can make this connection, we can allow more room to be with the deeper fear, grief, and discomfort of living through this pandemic.
Loss of Control & Connection
We know winter is something we can’t control or subdue, and it reminds us that we are not the full masters of our world. And yet, in another way, winter teaches us to value each other and the hope that redemption is possible. Just witness the many festivals of light that spring up as the light fades: Christmas, Hanukah, Diwali, and Kwanzaa.
SAD taps into our primal and archetypal fears and needs: the need for light, warmth, connection, and life itself. It embodies and symbolizes our greatest terror and yet our greatest salvation. If we can talk about and deal with SAD together, we are poised to heal the other sadnesses ailing the world. In fact, I sometimes wonder if the collective psyche is having a little pun with us, trying to shout that we are all are feeling SAD and need support with our collective grief.
Make Winter Special
Researcher Kari Liebowitz traveled to the northernmost university in Norway to study the strange paradox of happiness associated with those who endure the longest winters in Scandinavia. Over 200 miles north of the Arctic circle, the town of Tromso is eclipsed from the sun for over 2 months. And yet, the people there have low rates of seasonal depression.
According to Liebowitz's research, the Scandinavian secret is learning how to adopt a positive winter mind-set. To do so yourself, she proposes three basic tips.
1. Dress up warmly and get outside to feel the uniquely invigorating magic of the winter air and light.
2. Make winter special and cozy by lighting candles and gathering together around a bonfire.
3. Cultivate an appreciation of what you enjoy about winter. Is it wearing cozy sweaters? Is it the interesting bluish and elongated light reflected off the snow? Is it cooking warm soup and smelling its wonderful aroma when you step in from the cold?
It's not easy losing the light and is made even harder by this pandemic. But, if we can reflect on it and reframe it, maybe we can pull some magic out of these trying times and catch a glimpse of our inner aurora borealis!