There is a sadness that comes over many people during the winter months. It's called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, a cute acronym for a very uncomfortable feeling. Because it comes and goes, many people don't associate it with actual depression.
According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, the major cause of SAD is lack of sunlight, and it is more common in Northern climates. Officials recommend full-spectrum lighting for at least 30 minutes a day and suggest taking melatonin as a dietary supplement.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently completed a study of 1.3 million people around the country and found that those who lived in sunny, outdoorsy states like Hawaii, Florida and Louisiana felt happier in the winter months than those in the frozen tundra or New York state (which was where people were least happy).
One thing the researchers did not consider -- and I think is a major contributor to winter depression -- is the cold weather. Those I have worked with agree that the cold of winter was just as debilitating and depressing than the lack of daylight.
For many people, cold isn't generally associated with comfort. The fun of winter sports aside, most folks would rather snuggle by a fire than sit on the front porch when it's below 40 degrees outside. Some are actually allergic to the cold and get runny noses or coughs, and others can't help but shiver when they run from their car to the office.
Those I have spoken to about it say the same thing: "I hate the cold." And it takes a lot of emotion to generate hate.
Cold can make people grumpy and lethargic. It can make you feel vulnerable and can remind you of unpleasant times. It can make you feel a little depressed as well.
Sure, some hearty souls are used to the cold and may even like it, or don't feel it, but for those who do mind it, the cold is a mighty demon to be fought off with coats, polar fleece and frightening heating bills. Some get creative and use electric hand warmers and -- can you believe it? -- even heated socks. What a wonderful world!
SAD is no laughing matter. Those who suffer from it have miserable winters. As with any depression, if you suffer from SAD, it has an effect on the people around you. Telling someone who is cold to put on an extra sweater is like telling a drowning person to just hold his or her breath a little longer. Ain't gonna work.
If there is someone in your life who suffers with this malady, I suggest you support him or her in any way possible, as it will make your life better as well. When we're spending most of our energy trying to stay warm or fight off the winter blues, we don't have as much to give to the ones we love. Simply by turning up the thermostat, you can put your entire household in a better mood.
(Dr. Barton Goldsmith, a psychotherapist in Westlake Village, Calif., is the author, most recently, of "100 Ways to Boost Your Self-Confidence -- Believe in Yourself and Others Will Too." E-mail him at Barton(at)BartonGoldsmith.com.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com)