Counselling Resource

Psychology, Philosophy & Real Life

Sarah Luczaj

SAD: Mourning the Loss of Daylight

I certainly consider lethargy, melancholy and intense desires to sleep and to pile on the carbs to be natural parts of the season. I wonder if our ancestors didn’t do exactly that, sleep and eat their way through the winter months. We now have to keep going, keep working, studying, at a constant pace, as if our deep biological rhythms had adjusted to keep up with the society we now live in. Unfortunately, they haven’t.

As I write, the clocks have just gone back, and from what I hear on the radio, this seems to have come as a shock to a fair proportion of the population, most vociferously those poor souls who work on a Sunday morning. It makes the point nicely that the coming of winter time is not an integral part of our culture but a kind of abstract decision made somewhere by the powers that be.

The loss of daylight hours has real physical effects, though. I lose count of the clients who have said to me that they can manage OK in summer (be it depression, anorexia, a range of anxiety conditions), but when winter comes they struggle to cope. Seasonal Affective Disorder is of course a condition in its own right, in which the lack of light has severe effects on the functioning of brain chemistry. Light therapy is recommended for those who feel fine in summer but in winter suffer from marked sleep problems, lack of energy, carbohydrate cravings and weight gain, depression and relationship problems linked to that, as well as physical aches and pains.

I certainly consider lethargy, melancholy and intense desires to sleep and to pile on the carbs to be natural parts of the season. I wonder if our ancestors didn’t do exactly that, sleep and eat their way through the winter months. We now have to keep going, keep working, studying, at a constant pace, as if our deep biological rhythms had adjusted to keep up with the society we now live in. Unfortunately, they haven’t. I find the greatest peace in the winter when I can slow down my pace of life and ‘stay inside’ in all senses, finding that I can focus the best on inner matters during the long dark nights. That obviously goes to show that while my mood may be lower, I don’t suffer from actual depression in the winter, which notoriously robs you of your ability to focus.

What can we do? I say — honour our ancient bodies as they take us through modern life! Give them as much light and warmth as we can, making full use of the wonders of technology, and if it’s possible, and if we want to, allow them to spend some quiet time in the darkness too.

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