It’s the middle of winter and we’re all beginning to feel a little too cold and too tired in the mornings. The days are shorter,and our bodies are going into a form of human hibernation. Yet, life demands the same things of all of us. We still have to work or study, or exercise.
The only difference is that it’s dark when we wake up now.
The Diagnostic Statistics Manual vol.5 has labelled some of this feeling as Seasonal Affected Disorder – appropriately dubbed S.A.D for short. Look, before we get into this I’m going to be completely honest and remind us all that the DSM is a flawed manual for mental health in constant need of revision. For example, some of the previous ‘mental illnesses’ within its casual bindings have included things like homosexuality and hysteria. As we know now, these aren’t mental illnesses at all. Instead, they provide a clear example of how the DSM has been used throughout previous decades to control and subjugate minorities in society. Some psychologists such as Thomas Szasz argue that this continues within the most recent revisions (1960). Thus, take the diagnosis’ and the allocations of mental illness in the DSM with a grain of salt. If you want more info on this opinion you can watch a short YouTube clip on Szasz’ work here.
However, regardless of whether S.A.D is an objectively diagnosable disorder, we can all feel some of the symptoms in winter. Do you find yourself with less energy than you had in summer? Is it more of a struggle to complete the tasks that were simple when the weather was warmer? Are you craving more carbs? I understand. Arguably, the S.A.D symptoms such as this are just an alternative label for the fact that human beings are made of organic matter. Which means we decay. We have sleeping patterns and hibernation urges that can be related far back to our ancestry. In the Stone Age (yes, that far back) humans fought glacial weather in winter by literally retreating into caves. Although it seems like too long ago to claim it affects us now, be aware that Mother Nature is a fickle thing. She takes her time to evolve. The fast-paced world around us that has changed rapidly in the last 200 years is not reflected in our biological make up. Our fight or flight responses to stress are still more equipped for a lion attack than an exam.
Our bodies don’t know we still have to work in winter.
Luckily, unlike in the Stone Age, we don’t have to hole ourselves up in our bedrooms all winter and forgo showering. For all our lack of energy; humans are innovative. We’ve found ways to have fun in winter too. I’m thinking mulled wine, skiing and a little self- care. Combine your short days of sunlight getting Vitamin D with a warm shower to combat those sneaky S.A.D symptoms. Is there anything better than scrubbing yourself clean and then rugging up in front of the fire with a book? Winter is the time for self-care that we’ve all been waiting for. There’s time for a little love where you can treat yourself by staying cosy and warm at home. For all us introverts, that’s a dream come true. Now, you don’t need an excuse to not leave the house. The weather’s done it for you! It’s great because ‘Sorry, I’m washing my hair’ is a completely appropriate excuse in winter. And, for the extroverts out there, what’s better than a day skiing or ice skating? The world is now your Winter Wonderland. Self- care comes in all shapes and sizes. It’s okay to remember this. Nobody expects a flower to bloom all year round, so why should we expect ourselves to? Ancestry, biology and mental health all ask us to give our bodies some love and care in winter. Introverted or extroverted – let’s all be kind to ourselves and our mental health on these cold winter nights.
Szasz, TS 1960, ‘The myth of mental illness’, American psychologist, vol. 15, 113- 118
American Psychiatric Association 2013, Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, vol. 5, American Psychiatric Association, Washington