You open your blinds to see bare and brown tree limbs twisted as if with arthritis, curling gnarled fingers around the few dead leaves that forgot to let go. The sky is a gray blanket – an impermeable cloud layer that looks like it’s here to stay. And even with the blinds raised, your bedroom is shadowy and let’s face it, gloomy. You switch on the bedside lamp but it can’t dispel the grayness or the feeling of vague yet palpable sadness that now seems to loom over you.
What you’re feeling is real and it may be Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Those in retirement who lack the daily structure and social mandates of a 9 to 5 job can fall prey to SAD -particularly those living in northern climates. SAD is not to be taken lightly.
What are the symptoms?
Sleepiness during the daylight hours
Low to no motivation to exercise
Withdrawal from social situations
A depressed mood during specific months
Time.com defines SAD as, “a form of depression that typically coincides with the winter months,” They say, “The possible causes of seasonal depression are manifold, but an absence of sunlight appears to play a role. “We know rates of SAD vary by latitude, so they’re much lower in Florida than in Alaska,” (says Dr. Korb, a UCLA researcher). Just as shift work or traveling to a different time zone can profoundly mess with your body’s natural rhythms, the lack of light in winter may create a “dyssynchrony” in your body’s sleep-wake cycles and internal clocks. This in turn may lead to imbalances in your levels of serotonin, dopamine and other neurotransmitters that control your mood, appetite and energy levels.”
Joy here – When my daughter was in graduate school in London, far away from family and things familiar, she felt out of sorts all winter — depressed, blue, not wanting to do anything social. She now lives in Amsterdam, yet another dreary city in winter, bitterly cold and dark by 4pm. The beauty of springtime where tulips burst with vibrant colors is long forgotten, overshadowed by gray skies and a dampness that goes right through your bones.
During her London stay, I bought my daughter a lamp that emits light designed to combat SAD. Amazon lists no less than 30 different lamps!! I couldn’t believe it. They are called “Happy therapy”, ‘Light therapy”, Happylight”, ‘Sun lamp light therapy.” People need sun light; they need to wake up and see blue sky, maybe not every day, but certainly at least a couple times a week. It affects our moods, our dispositions, our energy levels.
As retirees without the structure we once had, bleak winters, especially post Holidays, are challenging. If we didn’t have get-up-and-go in the spring or summer, we sure don’t have it in winter!
If you have to stay in a cold climate, help yourself by working on projects, cooking more, making big pots of soup, stews, casseroles, comfort foods; try your hand at baking, build fires and get cozy; wrap a comfy blanket around yourself, snuggle with someone you love or your cat or dog!
If all else fails, go to a warm climate, even for a long weekend! Sunshine does wonders to lift your spirits and recharge your batteries. Know that this is a very real condition and you need to help yourself get out of it and feel better. Pamper yourself, even if it’s just a facial from your local drug store.
Know that spring will indeed come again. Even now, those tulips are doing their own light therapy underground, plotting their return when they will burst forth and lift our collective spirits!
-We may be addressing this early with the spirit of Christmas and Chanukah in the air. However, we know that winter is about to set in. We want to prepare because January just plain sucks! What’s to look forward to after the heightened anticipation of the holiday season?!
-Know that a lot of what we as retirees feel is magnified and it’s okay to feel blue. The most important thing is to bring yourself out of it and know you are in good company!
As always enjoy the ride!
xox Barclay & Joy