The Single Life: Staying Sunny on Cloudy Days
- Thursday, November 12, 2009
"It was a dark and stormy night ...." No, seriously, it was. Granted, most nights are dark by definition, but here in my little corner of the world it's been stormy—or at the very least, rainy—for weeks now. And between you and me, people are starting to get downright cranky about it.
There's really no getting around it: weather affects our mood. This is not to say the weather affects everyone the same way—personally, I love a misty, grey day. It's mysterious, moody and makes me think of Sherlock Holmes. (Though, I must admit, the recent, incessant rain is starting to make even me feel a little mildewed.) Others perk up the moment the sun peeks from behind a cloud. Some are invigorated by cold, others crave nothing so much as blazing heat. One way or another, we're all—to some extent—impacted by the conditions around us.
This phenomenon is so pervasive it has become part of our vocabulary. When we're sick, we're "under the weather." "Blue skies" means the future looks bright. "Stormy weather" says things aren't looking so good—so much so that National Public Radio's "Marketplace" plays the song by that name whenever the Dow is down.
For some, this is a serious medical condition known as "Seasonal Affective Disorder" or "SAD." According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, as many as half a million people in the United States may have winter-onset depression (another name for SAD). Sorry to tell you this, girls, but women are more prone to be affected than men, although heredity and the distance from your home to the equator also play a part. (The farther north you are, the more likely you are to suffer from SAD.) Symptoms tend to turn up after we reach our twenties and the chance of getting it increases as we age.1 SAD often shows up this time of year, causing sluggishness, moodiness, and depression. Other symptoms include a craving for carbs, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, social withdrawal, and loss of interest in favorite activities.2
Mind you, enough gloomy days in a row can make even the cheeriest soul feeling a little bummed. How do you know when your winter blahs are just a passing fancy and when they're an actual illness? Our friends at the Mayo Clinic tell us, "If you feel down for days at a time and you can't seem to get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, see your doctor. This is particularly important if you notice that your sleep patterns and appetite have changed or if you feel hopeless, think about suicide, or find yourself turning to alcohol for comfort or relaxation."3
Aside from those ski resort snow machines, we humans don't have a lot of control over the weather. So how do we combat SAD, or even a run-of-the-mill case of bad-weather doldrums? The easiest way is to get more light in your life. Sunlight, preferably, but even bright lamps will help some. If you're diagnosed with SAD, your doctor may well prescribe light therapy, which involves sessions with a special light box or even a ‘light visor' to wear on your head. While you may be tempted to kill two birds with one stone and indulge in a little light therapy at your local tanning salon, experts tell us that's a bad idea. While you're turning a nice shade of bronze the ultraviolet (UV) rays in the tanning bed lights are doing not-so-nice things to your eyes and skin.4 (Sorry. It was a great idea while it lasted.)
On the other hand, the atmospheric conditions affecting our mood are not always the kind forecast by your local meteorologist. Circumstances can be stormy even when the sun is shining outside. Your personal weather can be dark and gloomy even while birds sing and fluffy clouds float overhead. How do you deal with that kind of weather?
The prescription is (almost) the same: get more "light" in your life—in this case, the Light of the World. Maybe you, like the Psalmist, need to give yourself a good talking to. "Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God." (Psalms 42:5) Maybe you need to remind yourself that the One who controls the weather—in all its various forms—is the One who loves you and has a plan for your life.
I'm not a big journaler, but one year when clouds around me were especially dark I kept a ‘thankfulness journal.' It was a little ruled notebook I left by my bed where, every night, I wrote one thing I was thankful for. Some days I was hard-pressed to think of anything better than "At least I'm not homeless." But as time went on I could look back at previous entries and see God's light shining through even the stormiest of days.
At some point, we're bound to experience dark and stormy nights of the soul. Even Jesus wasn't immune to them; the Garden of Gethsemane is a case in point. So why should we expect anything different? "In this world you will have trouble," Jesus warns in John 16:33. "But," he continues, "take heart! I have overcome the world."
Take heart, indeed! Keep enough "Light" in your life and you'll have a song in your heart—even if you're singing in the rain.
1American Academy of Family Physicians. 2008. Seasonal Affective Disorder. Available from http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/mentalhealth/depression/267.printerview.html. Accessed 24 October 09.
2Mayo Clinic Staff. 2009. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Available from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/seasonal-affective-disorder/DS00195. Accessed 24 October 09.
4American Academy of Family Physicians.
Susan Ellingburg is a natural-born Texan who sings at every opportunity, reads as much as possible, and cherishes every day she gets to spend with friends. She's a serious foodie and not-so-serious gardener who is determined not to let being single stand in the way of living an amazing life. Read Susan's blog at TastingGod.wordpress.com.
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