By Angela Dove
Most of us are aware the winter months trigger S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder) in many people. Lack of sunlight and colder temperatures combine to decrease melatonin and serotonin—both important chemicals in regulating mood—while also disrupting regular sleep patterns (circadian rhythms). As with other forms of depression, SAD appears to affect those with a genetic propensity toward depression. Psychological studies indicated that gender and location also play a role—women are more likely than men to suffer from SAD, as are those who live farther from the equator. Psychologist Donald Franklin has also posited that younger adults are more susceptible to seasonal depression.
According to the Mayo Clinic, Fall-Winter SAD can produce the following symptoms:
· Loss of energy
· Social withdrawal
· Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
· Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
· Weight gain
· Difficulty concentrating and processing information
In severe cases, SAD can lead to poor performance in school or on the job, self-imposed social isolation, substance abuse, and even suicide.
Sound familiar? It should. Many of these symptoms are also manifest by those who have survived violent crime. This is the grieving process of the survivor who has suffered a loss: loss of a loved one through murder or abduction; loss of a relationship through the worst kind of betrayal; or even loss of faith in the ways of the world (a grief that can be both all-consuming and personally devastating).
“Great grief does not of itself put an end to itself,” wrote the Roman philosopher Seneca, and those of us living in the wake of violent crime understand that truth. Many of us learn to go on with our lives, but our lives always incorporate the seeds of grief, and under the right circumstances, those seeds flower. Ironically, the lack of sunlight that is part of SAD can coax the seeds of grief into a devastating germination. Survivors who are feeling seasonal hopelessness or anxiety m ay find themselves experiencing their old losses with devastating freshness.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a bout of depression, don’t take it lightly. Instead, take it into the light.
Melanin and Serotonin are important champions in the body’s fight against depression, and both are influenced by sunlight. Take a walk outside on a brisk day. Pull the shades aside and sit in front of a sunny window. Or, if need be, talk to your doctor or psychologist about getting some light therapy. (My daughter was very jaundiced when she was born, and the pediatrician gave us an electric light pad that we put on her like a heating pad. This same technology that turned my carrot girl back to a healthy pink is now used with great success in the treatment of depression.)
Exercise releases another important chemical—endorphins—into the body. Your depression will rob you of energy, which discourages exercise, which only increases the depression. Don’t fall victim to this cycle.
Eating right can play an important role in improving mood. Bodies that crave comfort often crave carbohydrates, but increasing carbs can lead to weight gain, and gaining weight rarely equates to gaining happiness.
Yeah, alright, some carrot sticks and a brisk walk aren’t going to expel grief. (If only it were that easy!) But you do have some tools in your toolbox. And if the job is too large, seek medical attention through your MD or counselor.
Particularly, survivors of violent crime need to be aware that any internal propensity toward depression—and that seed of grief—can join up with Seasonal Depressive Disorder to create a double whammy of despondency. Look inside yourself. Look to your friends and loved ones who are survivors. And be on the watch for signs of depression. Ignoring them or wishing them away is about as effective as trusting a Cobb salad and a patch of sunlight to make all right with the world.
Get real about the fact that, as the poet Percy Shelley wrote, “Grief returns with the revolving year.” Grief is a part of living. It will be a part of your life. It is a part of mine. But it shouldn’t be allowed to grow in darkness until it chokes out the light.
Angela Dove is an award-winning humor columnist, speaker, and author of the true crime memoir No Room for Doubt: A True Story of the Reverberations of Murder (Penguin, 2009).