By: John Dabrowski,LICSW
Geiger Gibson Community Health Center & Neponset Health Center
The passing of the fall equinox signifies we are heading into the darkest three months of the year. Many might hear those words with dread, and not only those of us working in BH have heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder, recently amended in the DSM-5 as major depression “with seasonal pattern.” The wintertime blues, the summertime blues, etc. It can be a serious condition for some, though for most it appears much more subtly (waking up in the dark takes some getting used to, as you know).Then there’s the whole confusion that occurs when the clocks get changed (11/03 this year – look out!), which for me, doesn’t help.
There’s a theory that our ancestors may have suffered from a seasonal “slowing down” as our species’ version of hibernation – you’re more likely to survive the winter if you sleep a lot, don’t feel like doing much, and need less food, which is much scarcer anyway in winter, or used to be. Maybe the Thanksgiving gorgefest is the modern way of noting we don’t starve in winter anymore, who knows? Then there are the various Festivals of Light and other holidays in northern climes around the world that occur in the darkest days, that help everybody get by – distraction is a powerful coping strategy.
Get this: the prevalence of SAD runs about 1.4% in Florida, 9.7% in New Hampshire, and 9.5% in northern Finland, where it’s REALLY dark all the time. What do the Finns know that they don’t know in Nashua? (just kidding) If one really misses the light, one can move to Kenya or Borneo, where this whole thing never happens. On a larger scale, this all has something to do with people’s general tendency to resist change of any kind. The best strategy, if you can pull it off, is to simply embrace change, easier said than done, but an effort worth making as the years pass by.
Darkness and cold have their own appeal, and the city is never quieter and more peaceful than on a 28 degree winter morning. (okay, you’re saying, this guy is nuts – I am a transplant from California to Massachusetts, by choice, the wisdom of which many might question).The middle-aged Puerto Rican guys that live across the street from me are the two most enthusiastic snow shovelers I’ve ever witnessed. Go figure. The best prevailing simple advice for coping is to get outside and exercise on sunny days, whenever they occur (consider the recent WOW steparama as a warmup!). Accept change, because you can’t avoid it. And don’t forget that that darkness turns back to light, soon enough- John Dabrowski (all “facts” courtesy of Wikipedia)