Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder
When it comes to dealing with seasonal affective disorder — an extreme lethargy and sadness that accompanies the onset of winter — most sufferers have already heard it all when it comes to solutions. Here’s the drill in a nutshell: spend a good chunk of time in front of a lamp that emulates sunlight; meditate; plan trips to warm places; take long, soothing walks; keep a balanced diet and try to sustain a positive attitude.
There’s really nothing new on the scene when it comes to treatment methods for SAD. But there’s a lot more to SAD than meets the eye — way beyond the feelings of listlessness and sadness that set in alongside the cold, dark days of winter.
If nothing’s really worked to alleviate your challenges with SAD, it is because something that you don’t really understand is going on in your mind. To draw on the findings in neuroscience, there are absolutely millions upon millions of synapses firing in our brains at every moment, most of which are completely reflexive. Think about it: most of the time, we don’t even register that we’re breathing. Similarly, why the onset of winter would bring about SAD usually is a total mystery.
To put it simply: often, things go on inside ourselves that we can neither explain nor understand. So we can’t really fix them. We may be able to alleviate the symptoms, but we’d rather have a cure.
Start trying to conjure up everything you might not be consciously aware of that could be causing all the SAD: that bully in fourth grade, a trauma in your teens, grief or any other thing that might be contributing to what you’re feeling. You probably know that won’t work.
Unfortunately, the problem with having unconscious issues is that we can’t be conscious of them. Having ideas about what could be going on — insights, hypotheses and theories — does not lead to making things conscious. Unfortunately, no matter how smart we are, reason, common sense and intelligence do not help when it comes to affecting our emotions. Our emotional circuits, which problems like SAD originate from, are usually unreachable with higher-brain function. In other words: the synapses from the higher, rational brain to the lower emotional brain just aren’t there.
The good news is that even though our common sense and reason have little effect on unconscious emotional processes, there is a roadway to them, and that is through our emotions. Emotional experiences affect us in a way that even the most incredible and greatest ideas can’t. By “emotional experiences” I mean things that affect us emotionally — such as getting a promotion, falling in love, being recognized for something good that we did, or being kissed every day by a darling child.
In fact, even negative emotional experiences (such as feeling scared) can create emotional change. Sometimes, if we are scared enough, we can create change — such as stopping smoking because we could get cancer, or losing weight if we fear a heart attack. Emotional experiences, simply put, move us in ways that ideas and rationality just don’t have the power to do.