Monday, 12 November 2012

Winter Blues by Zoë Sharp

Now the clocks have gone back, the first dusting of snow has fallen, and the rabid countdown to Christmas is in full swing, it feels like winter is officially well and truly Here.

I have mixed feelings about this. Part of me is extremely tempted to mutter, “Bah! Humbug!” under my breath a good deal of the time. But actually I find the winter months tend to be a really good time to write. There isn’t the temptation to venture out, and there’s something rather cosy about sitting creating stories in a little pool of light from a desk lamp, while the wind thrashes the sleet against the outside of the windows.

At least, I think, I’m not out working in that.

But people are supposed to be outside dwellers. A couple of hundred years ago, about three-quarters of us worked out in the open in one way or another. Today that’s fallen to roughly ten percent. During the summer this isn’t such a problem, but working odd hours in winter means we often leave home in the dark and arrive back in the same state, spending our working day under deathly artificial light in the meantime.

Which is why huge number of us suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder—the aptly named SAD—or the Winter Blues.

Writers, I think, tend to be more affected by mood than others. It’s no secret that levels of depression are higher among creative people, and Winter Blues can sometimes be the final straw, particularly if you’re not aware of what it is and the effects. I’d heard of it, but until I started reading up for this piece, I didn’t realise what it really meant.

Winter Blues usually affects those who live more than thirty degrees from the equator, where the daylight levels rise and fall more noticeably with the seasons. (I knew there was another good reason to move to warmer climes.)

Reduced daylight and sunshine affects our circadian rhythms—our bodyclock—which regulate appetite, digestion, energy, sleeping, waking and mood. Just about everything that allows us to function, then. Without the proper triggers to wake feeling energetic, and sleep at the right times, we become lethargic and grumpy.

Among the symptoms for Winter Blues:

  • Lack of energy making you unable to stick to your normal routine.
  • Sleep problems—restless at night and tired during the day.
  • Lack of interest in physical contact.
  • Anxiety and an inability to cope.
  • Depression with no apparent cause.
  • Social withdrawal and irritability.
  • Craving for sweets and carbohydrates, leading to weight gain.

So, you’ve looked down the list and thought, “Yup, ticked all those boxes.” Now, what do you do about it?

There’s medication, of course, but some of the organisations set up to help sufferers suggest that the best way forward may be to try light treatment. (Of course, I say this entirely as a lay-person. If you think you’ve got it, seek expert medical advice.)

But, it’s known that lack of light increases our production of Melatonin, which is the hormone that makes us sleepy, and decreases our Serotonin production, which is what keeps us happy.

So, sitting, for periods of time that vary according to each individual, with a lightbox which produces more lumens than a standard incandescent bulb may do wonders. As may having an alarm clock that simulates a gradual dawn breaking with increasing light rather than an abrupt buzzer, or spending as much time as possible outside, negative air ionisation, and Vitamin D supplements. Taking more exercise is always noted as helpful for those with depression, although if you’re depressed and sluggish the last thing you may feel like doing is exercise.

Whatever way you decide is best for you to treat the Winter Blues, the important thing is that you recognise you may be one of the many people affected, and to do something about it.

Personally, hibernating until the spring seems like a really good idea …

This week’s Word of the Week is mislippen, a Scots and Northern English dialect word meaning to distrust, suspect, disappoint, overlook, neglect or deceive.


  1. Winter blues is why booze was invented, I think. Nice post!

  2. You know what helps me get through winter blues? Reading books in either a sunny climate to dream away with or a very cold winter climate (reading Winter Prey by John Sanford right now)to know things could be worse.