When coffee is not enough: fighting winter blues & S. A. D.


WinterBluesIt’s winter, and that means that many people are trying to cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or its less intense form, Winter Blues. The condition can make you feel sad or worthless. It can also sap your energy and make you wish it were socially acceptable for humans to hibernate.

For writers and other creative people, these conditions can slow your winter productivity. You may end up spending months not writing, blogging or promoting your books, and feeling hopeless and useless because of it.

Some writers probably try to ‘cure’ their SAD with mass quantities of coffee. This is not a good solution, and not just because excess coffee consumption killed Honore de Balzac. A caffeine high isn’t dealing with the real cause of SAD, it is just (possibly) covering up a symptom.

The problem of the coffee-addicted SAD writer is that coffee can have other side effects that hurt your writing, such as insomnia. And as you get older, your doctor may insist you give up your caffeine habit. What happens to your writing then?

I used to think the only thing that could be done for the SAD person was using ‘full spectrum’ light bulbs. Which are hard to get where I lived. But then I read the book ‘Winter Blues’ by Norman E. Rosenthal, MD. Rosenthal has been involved in research into SAD and the Winter Blues for decades, and he had a lot of research-based advice.

Most importantly, people experiencing depression, even seasonal depression, should seek help for it. He also said that light therapy is a big help, but it doesn’t require ‘full spectrum’ light bulbs.

Instead he suggests the use of a light therapy lamp daily. I bought a Verilux brand HappyLight Liberty 5k lamp, because it was only $39.00. (If it were not for money considerations, I would have bought one of the larger Verilux light therapy lamps.) I sit in front of the lamp every morning and read or blog or something. Rosenthal’s book gives good instructions on how to use light therapy lamps.

Rosenthal also suggests using a dawn simulator to wake up in the morning. I got a Phillips Wake-Up light model HF3520/60. It wakes you with a light that progresses from dim orange to bright white light over 20 minutes. (Time is adjustable.) You can also program it to use a wake-up sound, either nature sounds (birds and ocean surf) or FM radio.

I’m not normally an alarm clock person. When I have an alarm set, I can’t sleep all night long, anticipating. But this ‘wake-up light’ works for me. The first time I used it, I was very overtired from staying up late. I didn’t feel at all like getting up. So I kept my eyes closed and fell back asleep listening to the nature sounds. Those sounds even featured in my dreams. When the wake-up light finally realized I wasn’t going to get up and turn it off, it turned off the light and the sounds— which woke me up. I think it took about an hour to do that, and I was ready to get up by then. So far, I feel better using it.

There is another trick I know to beat depression that works at any time of year. Just go on a low-carb, ketogenic diet. After a short time on the diet, I feel much more energetic and less depressed. There is actual scientific backing for this effect. The problem is, if you start eating carbs again, the effect stops and you may become depressed again.


Poem of the Day

I have no wife, said I.
And so my landlord gave to me
A tiny maiden flower.

haiku by Yamamoto Kakei, (1648-1716.) From the book ‘The Classical Tradition of Haiku: An Anthology’ edited by Faubion Bowers. The book is a Dover Thrift Edition and cost around $3 when I bought it a few years back. Highly recommended.

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3 thoughts on “When coffee is not enough: fighting winter blues & S. A. D.

  1. I use a Verilux Happy light, too. I always wake up early, around 5:30-6:00. Some days I manage to go back to sleep, but most of the time I get up. I read daily Mass readings & reflections & pray & then get some writing done.

  2. I have a Happy Light 7500. I found mine helps me more if I use it during the early evening instead of in the morning.

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