Oops! If you subscribe to my blog you probably got some weird email that I have this new post titled something slightly different than this, with nothing actually written. That’s because before I’d written a single word, while I was still working on the title, the screen changed to let me know I had just posted. Great. Obviously I hit a key I shouldn’t have or clicked something inadvertently. Seems like stressful situations are piling up on me lately, which coincidentally is what this post is all about, so it’s almost no surprise that something went wrong here too. But it’s fine, because I’m laughing at stress today. And now I’ve just noticed that the “excerpt” from this post in the email just reads “Pinterest”. It doesn’t end. Stress gets the last laugh.
My ‘to do’ list is in the double digits and ironically completing the ‘to do’ list is also on the list. I need to take a breath. I’m always seeing headlines about how too much stress is bad for our health. How we should find ways to cut it back. Maybe. But stress is part of the yin and yang of life. It drives us. And sometimes it comes in big waves. Sometimes it’s like the tide. Sometimes we just feel it more, even when the stress really isn’t that bad. It’s not going away. More important than cutting stress back, I think, is learning to deal with it.
In my experience, everything about life seems to have an ebb and flow that coincides with the rest of the natural world. Human life is no exception. In the winter everything in me feels more internal. I do a lot of soul searching and contemplating. I read more. My spirit is more subdued and I spend a lot of time in my own head. I have a feeling I’m not alone. Sometimes my head is so busy by this time each year, that I’m yearning for the relief of spring time. If I tune in to the natural world, I realize that even if the first day of spring is a month away, my being already knows winter is on it’s way out. If I can silence my thoughts, I can feel spring creeping in. In the spring I’m more external. I put the internal growth of winter into action. I think being aware of this can help me shake the winter blues.
Maybe you’ve heard of seasonal depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder aka “SAD”. (That acronym just makes it sound even more dreadful.) I’m skeptical that it’s actually a “disorder” at all, but if a person is severely depressed, then that is a real problem. Here are some signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder from PubMed Health:
- Increased appetite with weight gain (weight loss is more common with other forms of depression)
- Increased sleep and daytime sleepiness (too little sleep is more common with other forms of depression)
- Less energy and ability to concentrate in the afternoon
- Loss of interest in work or other activities
- Slow, sluggish, lethargic movement
- Social withdrawal
- Unhappiness and irritability
According to the link above, some of the factors that cause “SAD” are the lack of sunlight, cold temperatures, barometric pressure. Here’s an interesting excerpt from Wikipedia about it’s origin:
In many species, activity is diminished during the winter months in response to the reduction in available food and the difficulties of surviving in cold weather. Hibernation is an extreme example, but even species that do not hibernate often exhibit changes in behavior during the winter. It has been argued that SAD is an evolved adaptation in humans that is a variant or remnant of a hibernation response in some remote ancestor. Presumably, food was scarce during most of human prehistory, and a tendency toward low mood during the winter months would have been adaptive by reducing the need for calorie intake. The preponderance of women with SAD suggests that the response may also somehow regulate reproduction.
Neither article mentions this, but I’ve read somewhere that SAD may cause an increase in carb cravings specifically. But maybe the increased carb consumption and cravings in winter is natural too, especially if you are eating seasonally as we are. There is less variety in fresh foods during the cold winter months. Most root veggies and winter squash that store well contain more carbs than other vegetables. Flour and sugar are cheap, common staples available year round. We eat more sweets during the holidays. All of this could feed our carb addiction. (Many believe sugar is highly addictive.) Increased carb intake alone could cause the symptoms associated with seasonal depression. Simple carbs like sugar and white flour in candy, cookies and cakes can cause a spike in blood glucose, resulting in a sugar rush – a temporary and subtle “high” which, along with the sweet yummy taste, you begin to crave. But after that brief “high”, blood glucose levels drop quickly, which could cause lack of energy, unhappiness, irritability, mood swings, anxiety and possibly headaches and even more cravings.
Whether it’s from lack of sunlight or an increase in carb consumption or a combination of both, I think seasonal mood changes are natural for most living organisms – less noticeable for some and excruciatingly obvious for others. But knowing that this state is probably just a natural, temporary, seasonal condition, can help us cope whether our symptoms are mild or severe. Lowering simple carb intake will likely help to reduce symptoms.
Just to confirm my suspicion that my mood is affected by the seasons, I found a few posts from this time last year (one of the many benefits of journaling/blogging). In this one in particular I say “I’m in a bit of a funk.” And I remember feeling withdrawn and highly irritable that day. It’s also interesting see that my posts around this time last year involve reflection and revelations about minimalism and toxins in other things besides food (i.e. beauty products and cleaners). I was contemplating making changes. Maybe this internal growth during winter is a lesser form of human hibernation. Maybe it’s just natural. And in the posts from March and April, I talk about the actions that came from that internal growth. We purged stuff. I deleted everything on my DVR and cancelled future recordings. There are pictures of a newly planted garden. We go on trips.
This winter, I’m still building on all of that and I’ve been growing spiritually. I’ve contemplated religion, atheism and our natural world a lot this winter. I’ve been planning and learning about gardens, back yard design and DIY projects. I have found inspiration (largely thanks to Pinterest) and re-awakened my love for art and crafting. Maybe this internal growth during winter is just a natural cycle of human life. Now it’s time to take action. Make some changes. Go to bed earlier. Cut back on carbs. (Not surprisingly, this time last year we had the same problem with carbs.) Clean out the DVR. Start purging (my room is the first target). Plant stuff and just get outside. Spend time with family and friends and reach out to people who share my nonconformist views and hobbies. Just thinking about all that growth and future plans makes me feel alive again. Spring, ready or not, here I come.