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More than Just the Winter Blues: Dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder

Elizabeth Seyle Fenton

More than Just the Winter Blues: Dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder
tacojim via Getty Images

The holidays are over and it’s back to the daily grind. For some of us, January brings on the “winter blues”—a temporary, mild period of sadness resulting in most cases from a specific cause like the stress of the holidays, disappointments, or losses. For a smaller number of us, especially those of us who live in northern climates, shorter winter days can lead to seasonal affective disorder (SAD). For lawyers, SAD can be disruptive to our law practices and to our personal lives. By shedding some light on SAD, I hope to offer some practical ways to manage it. Keep in mind that I’m a lawyer, not a doctor, so my advice should not be treated as medical advice.

SAD, unlike the winter blues, is a clinical diagnosis. While scientists are still investigating the cause of SAD, the shorter daylight hours of wintertime appear to be one factor. The lack of daylight interferes with the circadian rhythms that regulate sleep cycles. Unfortunately, SAD typically follows a regular pattern: people who have it start to experience low mood in early winter, and their mood starts to improve as the days lengthen in the spring. Some of the signs of SAD include low energy, hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness), withdrawal from social activities, and brain fog. Some people with SAD crave sweets and comfort foods, leading to weight gain. These symptoms can impact lawyers’ ability to focus, prioritize, and get work done.

If you or someone you know is suffering from SAD, here are some ideas for dealing with it.

  • Try to get natural sunlight every day. Drink your morning coffee on a park bench. Take a walk around the block at lunchtime.
  • Purchase a SAD lamp or light box—and use it. The lamp should have at least 10,000 lumens and should not have any UV light. Experts recommend using it for 20 or 30 minutes in the morning. Don’t look directly at the light when you use it; keep it a couple of feet away from your eyes.
  • Ask your physician about taking supplemental Vitamin D. Even better, meet up with a friend or colleague and get your infusion of Vitamin D together.
  • Exercise, even if it’s only for a few minutes, and do it outside if possible (see above).
  • Watch what you eat and drink. Load up on fruits and vegetables. Avoid caffeine late in the day. Alcohol interferes with sleep, so avoid excessive drinking.
  • Go to sleep and wake up around the same time every day. You can set your watch or phone to remind you that bedtime is on the horizon.
  • Get help. Every state has a Lawyers’ Assistance Program. Find the one for your state here.

SAD, and its impact, is real. There is no need to suffer alone or in silence, though. Remember, spring is just around the corner.