Are You SAD For The Winter?


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      As Monday kicks in, our honey-sweet Thanksgiving break was called to an end. Depressed with the abrupt termination of my wanton pleasure, I also took great displeasure with the weather. As a continuation of my last blog, I decided to bring some more interesting observations and resources into the dominion of seasonal swing of personal mood.

      My personal anecdote during the break was powerful at least at my own level that the weather could seriously hold sway of our dispositions. With the blessing of God, our grand tour to Ohio was accompanied by fine weather for the most part. On the second last day, we walked out hotel with sunshine galore, enjoying the most sensational weather that the winter could afford to give us. High 55, no winds. My thermometer was happy to show me a promising forecast. Later on at that day, we would be at Columbus, some 100 miles from Cincinnati. The proximity of these two cities almost persuaded that the weather should not vary significantly. But when we hopped off from our bus at around 2 o'clock, at the time when we usually observe the highest temperature of the day. Holy Cow! We were literally blown away by the weather. With relentless gales buffeting my face, we arrived there unprepared. We were literally a group of penguins, who were basking beneath the summer sunshine on Antarctica, and suddenly encounter a paranormal reversal of the season. What do we do? Cuddle together and kindle fire! We were so depressed and disenfranchised by such a downturn of nature. Thus, our visit to Ohio State University that night was more like a ritual. No more than five minutes have passed before when we got so indignant with the mischief of weather, which drove us back hostel. No "We are Penn State" chanting, no show-off with Penn State gears, nothing. In Columbus, we became stray dogs longing for a warm kennel, not because of Ohio State diehards but the surreal change of the weather. Shazam! Welcome to Ohio-ish winter, says the land.

      121106092312-seasonal-disorder-sad-winter-woman-story-top.jpg

      Photo courtesy of CNNHealth Dept. 

      In my last blog, I tackled with my recently begotten problem with oversleeping. At the last section of the article, I introduced the concept of SAD. In case you did not read that one, which could be a permanent loss for you, please let me remind you that SAD is the acronym of seasonal affective disorder. Drawing from the description from PubMed Health, the government portal of medical database, "seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a kind of depression that occurs at a certain time of the year, usually in the winter." Also as a reminder, I briefly talked about two chemicals that control our affective mood, serotonin and melatonin. In an excerpt of my last blog, I wrote,

"The science behind all of this [seasonal change of sleep pattern] involves serotonin and melatonin, two neurotransmitters in the brain. Melatonin is produced when we sleep. Sleeping too much produces abnormal levels of melatonin. The more we sleep, the more we want to sleep because of the increase in this neurotransmitter." Alright, this makes a great sense to me to explain my behavior of skipping class for more sleep after an 8-hour one, but it didn't specify the variable of season. It doesn't take me long to reach the following lines: "During the summer, we experience higher serotonin levels. Serotonin is responsible for our mood. When sunlight is in short supply, our serotonin levels fall and we don't have so much energy or so many good feelings."

      The story I told you at the start of this blog is not merely a bland narrative that I were to offer you, but it should serve as an example of how personal anecdotes give birth to strong opinion toward certain things. In our past class, Andrew talked about the process of flu vaccine inoculation has been lambasted because of sporadic emergences of juvenile autism. The account of Jenny McCarthy, an eloquent and contentious mother, has pushed the audience to seriously consider the drawback of flu vaccine. Though what made her public was not the rampant diatribe of the vaccine but her book that introduces the process of remedying her thus handicapped son with autism, it takes no discretion to see that most scientific studies start with observation and anecdotal documents. If you are the lucky dog, out of the strength of epiphany, viola, you are on the very beginning of some groundbreaking discovery. For me, that episode on the trip reminded me one thing: why don't look up that stuff further?

      So here we go, I found this passage from CNN, which came right to the season. Titled as "When it's more than 'winter blues'", Dr. Charles Raison, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Arizona in Tucson, set forth his reminiscence of personal perception of weather: "I grew up in a place where the sun shone every day from May through October. These sun-drenched days were the happiest times of my life. But in winter a dense fog would often blanket my hometown for weeks at a time, leaving the world gray and featureless and leaving me down and dreary." Oh poor Dr. Raison, he seemed to suffer much more than most of us due to the switch of season.

Winter Depression Global Interval.jpg

Picture courtsey of online community-based database.

      I confessed that SAD could be the source of depression and it truly was. On the contrary with an image of an evil demon utilizes the weather to debilitate us, nothing is metaphysical of the winter, the whole enchilada of clinical symptoms with the advent of the Santa Claus Season could be well explained at the physico-chemical level of human beings.

      This semester is drawing to an end, and as the time drags on, I began to collect more general observations with the value of scientific conductions. Like the downswing of mood with the coming of winter, I first attributed it to the sign of depression. Being a victim of intermittent depression, I sometimes dismissed it as lasting failure of a wholesome lifestyle. Indeed nowadays, I still whip myself to be more active at those times when I feel overcast. The vulgar public, which is used here to compare with some erudite scientists, tend to overlook the bodily mechanism of our daily behavior. When we found ourselves unmotivated or disheartened, we are more inclined to look intrinsically to our hidden aspect of characters and thus blame on them than to look extrinsically to the functionality code of our bodies. In this case of SAD, if we blindly discredited ourselves as being slothful, we shall be embroiled in turmoil of unnecessary self-criticism. So my suggestion with how to lead a rational life, by the inspiration of SC200, is to think proactively scientifically. To search online if any discomfort is going on against our general well-being is not a bad idea to promote health, both physically and psychologically, because scientific evidences are much more likely to be truthful than cursory accreditation to one's own soul, if you will.

      Having found that SAD brought me a grand realization of life philosophy, I continued to read the CNN editorial, and something struck me when I was somewhere in the middle: "people in Iceland have remarkably low rates of SAD, despite living in one of the darkest winter environments on earth...even more remarkably, people of Icelandic descent living in the prairie provinces of Canada have far low rates of SAD than their fellow non-Icelandic Canadians." Eureka! I have guessed the context actually prior to reading it: I have had something peculiar in my mind that Scandinavians live in one of the most inclement regions in the world in terms of climate, but they also appear to be genuinely happier than those who live in much milder climatic zones in the world despite the fact of top-notch social welfare systems and stable governments. Why is it the case? Then I met these lines in the article. Though Iceland is not a Scandinavian country, its climate much resembles such one. Thus, the theory of low SAD rate among Icelandic ought to be seen among Scandinavian residents as well if my correlation stands true.

      In an intriguing study called "Winter Seasonal Affective Disorder: A Global, Biocultural Perspective" by Barry Whitehead, he gave us an informative table between specific geographical locations and corresponding SAD rates.

SAD Table.jpg

Table courtesy of Barry S. Whitehead.

      Quite interestingly, according to the table, I was half-right. Compared to a rate of 3.6% in Iceland, Finland and Norway did not give us an impressive grade, finishing with 7.1% and 9.65%, respectively, whereas Sweden appears to be the sister to Iceland in this regard with SAD rates of 3.9% and 3.5% depending on studies. Why, being neighbors to each other, these Scandinavian countries vary dramatically with SAD prevalence? This doubt is covered by the CNN article once again: "Icelandic people carry an as-yet-undiscovered genetic factor that protects against SAD." You might call this remark inconclusive, but I think that this implication at least renders us a possibility of the abnormality of the SAD rate trend along with the increase of latitude. If you are interested in the discussion of the SAD rate and countries, I strongly recommend you to check the content of the study done by Whitehead with the link here:

          http://anthropology.ua.edu/bindon/ant570/Papers/Whitehead.pdf

       Apart from unsettled genetic theory of the overall well-being of Icelandic's mood in the winter, I deduced that daily activities, such as sauna, could also be a contributing factor of their happiness. In a CNN travel log, the author Larry Bleiberg revealed that "Researchers cite the cardiovascular benefits. A sauna removes toxins, leaving skin soft and supple, they [sauna practitioners] say." This being said, I think one of the confounding variables, which dictate the low SAD rate in Iceland and Canadian prairie, can be sauna and other routines of residents. If these fine-tune events are salubrious to the body adaptation to the environment, without too much genetic inheritance, they are gratified to exhibit a better mood anyway. Who's to blame that we don't have that many sauna units in America? Just kidding.

t1port_thunder_bay_sauna_cl.jpgPhoto courtesy of CNNTravel Dept.

      With so much information that SAD provides me, I couldn't help but wondering how come a seemingly evident phenomenon that most of us take for granted could mean an awful lot in the scientific realm and research arenas.

      As a closing mark, can you think of other causes for the low rate of SAD in Iceland? I know that this sounds equally weird as countries with more chocolate consumption are more likely to have larger number of Nobel laureates, but science sometimes is hidden in an uncharted niche, waiting for exchanges of innovative ideas. After all, isn't the process of sorting out "unexpected unknowns" making science even more appealing than ever?

      You may still hate it, so do I. But if you find this blog interesting, please leave your feedbacks below.

 

Sources:

http://anthropology.ua.edu/bindon/ant570/Papers/Whitehead.pdf

http://articles.cnn.com/2009-03-12/travel/thunder.bay.canada_1_home-sauna-wood-burning-sauna-lake-superior?_s=PM:TRAVEL

http://www.cnn.com/2012/11/28/health/seasonal-affective-disorder-raison/index.html

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002499/

3 Comments

i agree that the winter time makes you sad. There are many reasons why, the cold weather, the early sunset, the wind and many others. The winter makes you tired and sometimes depressed. I found an article that talks about exactly what SAD is. It is actually more common that we think, although many people think that everyone gets sad in the winter, SAD is actually a disorder. This article talks about how it is common and symptoms if you think you have it. There are also ways to help deal with it.

The part where you mention that people from Iceland carry a genetic factor that protects them against SAD is quite astonishing. It could very well be true. Just as evolution has allowed for people and animals to adapt to their surroundings, it is possible that over hundreds of generations, Icelandic people have adapted to their naturally cold climate. I do remember Dr. Reed in class talking about how a change in genes takes hundreds of years to happen. So, this occurrence among Icelandic people is not anything new.
I had a best friend from Finland, and she told me everyone there has a sauna in their house because it has just become the norm over time since the weather is so harshly cold. I remember learning in psychology class about where the happiest people in the world live.
I also question how Scandinavians rank among the happiest people in the world when their climate is so cold and depressing for so many months of the year. According to CNN News, Norwegians were rated the happiest people in the world, with the Democratic Republic of Congo ranked last. In Congo, it is hot. So this naturally does not make sense because one would assume that people from Congo should be happier since it is warmer climate there year round. However, we must take into account the lifestyle lived in each of these countries. In Congo, many are probably not happy due to the corruption, economy, poverty, disease, education, and way of life in general. What makes life so much better in Norway? Well, according to Forbes, “For one thing, a stunning per capita GDP of $54,000 a year. Norwegians have the second-highest level of satisfaction with their standards of living: 95% say they are satisfied with the freedom to choose the direction of their lives; an unparalleled 74% say other people can be trusted.”
While all this is very interesting, there is one factor that contradicts both of our research thus far. “Does being around happy people make an unhappy person feel even worse?” According to The New York Times, the countries that have ranked happiest around the world have also been ranked with the highest suicide rates, such as Scandinavian countries. I guess it can be annoying to be in a bad mood and have everyone else around you super happy. Have you ever experienced that? These two observations could be possible because the happy people and unhappy people would cancel each other out!
I think the suicide rates are highest because of the weather, which ties back to your blog topic of SAD. My friend told me that it is very depressing in Finland during the winter because it is so unbearably cold and it gets dark so early. The weather definitely can affect one’s mood and I do believe in SAD, although many might question the diagnosis. The weather is what we take up to in the morning and what we go to sleep to at night. It is the sky above us that we can see no matter where we are in the world. If the sky is dark and gloomy, it makes sense that our lives are influenced by that upper power.

I might be overly cynical, but I honestly don't think SAD deserves too much attention, I tend to side with the idea that everyone someway or another experiences sadness during the winter. It's depressing waking up in darkness, leaving work in darkness, and being cold all the time. I understand there's a science behind it, and that it may be a real disorder, but I think it's simply a state of mind during the winter time and the colder months. What I really am interested in is the fact that Iceland did not follow the norm in this regard, though it is understood that in general, Europeans are happier than most Americans. In short my question regarding this subject is that what truly defines SAD being different than someone is just depressed during the colder months?

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