Friday, January 15, 2010

Seasonal Depression or Natural Rhythm

What would happen if we discovered that most of what we call "seasonal depression" was actually a natural rhythm that we were created to experience? This question, along with a bigger overall concept, came to me this morning and I wanted to share it, to see what others thought of the idea.

One of the symptoms of seasonal depression is the lack of energy we feel during the bleak winter months. Perhaps we experience a reduction in energy levels during the winter because we weren't created, in the natural world, to need as much energy as we need during the summer. We've been reading Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder in our home school, and it was that story that led to my thoughts. The early pioneers were busy, I mean really busy, during the spring, summer, and fall months. The days were longer, the sun provided plenty of essential vitamin D, and they had work that just could not wait lest they starve to death over the winter. They had all of the energy they needed to get the job done. Then, come winter, there wasn't as much work to do. Sure, the men would spend the few short daylight hours hunting, if the weather cooperated, but otherwise they stayed indoors. They prepared food and ate, completed indoor chores and projects, told stories, played music, enjoyed the company of their family, and rested. The energy required to complete winter tasks was much lower than that required during the summer. Instead of back-breaking labor, they were resting and rejuvenating, because come spring, there would be work to do. That was then.

For those of us living in modern, first world countries, life is very different from what it was back then. With the modern inventions of electricity and reliable, weather-proof transportation, seasonal changes don't affect our work. We are free to work as long as we wish, long after sun down. We can drive to work in almost any weather. In short, our work-loads don't change with the seasons. We expect the same output from ourselves throughout the year. We never get that downtime to rejuvenate. More importantly, we expect our bodies to keep putting out the same amount of energy year round, and when it doesn't, we get upset about it.

That brings up the next question. Is it possible that much of the depressed mood we feel stems from our frustration at not being able to keep up, energy-wise, with our expectations? I know it does for me. If we understood, believed, accepted that we are suppose to have less energy during the winter, it would elevate our mood. Take it just a little step further, and accept that it may even be okay that our mood is naturally lowered during this time, too. A cheery mood helps get work done any day. I certainly don't want to hunker down for the winter, to rest and rejuvenate, when I'm cheery and happy. I want to get up, get stuff done, accomplish. On the other hand, a sedate mood facilitates the much needed rest when living in the natural world.

Unfortunately, most of us don't live in the natural world where seasons affect our required and expected output. Sure, those few who choose farming and ranching as their way of life experience seasonal changes in their work but what about the rest of Even if we accept this design, how will it help us overcome the lack of energy and lowered mood so we can still keep up with the never-fluctuating requirements of our jobs? Simple (but probably not easy). We would need to reorganize what we can to reduce our loads during the winter. Think about what you can move to the spring, summer, and fall months. If you have a large decluttering and organizing project you want to complete? Do it in the spring. Need to paint indoors? Summer is the perfect time. Holidays stress you out? Shop and wrap in the Fall. Put more effort in getting as much work done during your high energy times so you can do just the essentials during the winter. If that isn't enough, consider reducing your standards a bit in some areas. Maybe you can live with vacuuming just the main areas of your carpet during the winter and let the detailed vacuuming wait until spring, for example. Focus on the priorities during the winter: homeschool, basic chores, feeding your families. Finally, relax, rest, it's what you were designed to do.

Accepting these two ideas, that we are designed to have less energy and a more sedate mood is natural and normal, would go a long ways towards reducing seasonal depression. Perhaps we should even change its name. Natural seasonal rhythm sounds better, more positive, doesn't it?

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The Four Week Vegan said...

Interesting thoughts. I don't experience that phenomenon, so really cannot comment too much. I probably don't experience because I live where it is sunny all year long, well for the most part.

Suswan said...

I could NOT agree with you more! I've noticed this about people, that we tend to struggle against nature rather than using it to strengthen us. It's like choosing to paddle my canoe upstream when I could use the flow of the river to help get me downstream much faster and easier.

I apply this principle to schools insisting that my ADHD kid sit still to learn (At least they did when he was in school)instead of helping him to discover his strengths and using them to his advantage. For example, we've discovered that his natural ability to hyper-focus on something he is interested in can be very beneficial at work where he uses it to block out all distractions and focus on figuring out why an employees computer isn't working.
I hope my comment doesn't seem off topic. I'm just saying, whenever you can go with the flow. It makes your life easier. :-)

Anonymous said...

I think it's important for people to stick with the day/night schedule of the season, but I don't believe we need to spend less energy in the winter. I'm of the school of thought that humans originated in the warmer areas of the world and the types of winters seen in the Little House books (love them!) were not what we evolved with. Even if you don't believe in evolution most of the places people lived in a long time ago were much warmer areas and had more year-round activity.

Renae said...

Hmm...I thought I was lethargic from all the junk I ate over the holidays. :P

We take advantage of the cold by curling up and working on school.

Bethany said...

Great post!
I've been just sort of, blue, I guess lately as well. I had heard of seasonal depression, winter blues, etc but I forgot about it until you mention it now. I'm not usually a "blue" person so I will be happy to get my energy back this spring. hah!
I have also heard the change in mood/energy has to do with the lack of as much sunshine.