Saturday, December 06, 2008

Weathering the winter blues

When I lived in Frankfurt, a friend of mine, Ade, would warn me about being hit by depression during winter. I didn't get depressed, winter came by and went and I didn't feel any different. The same in London, life pretty much remained the same, we still went out and had our makans, I still made my daily school runs. So I thought it was just her, that it was all psychological, and I was above all that.

But last winter in Moscow, I definitely felt pretty down. I didn't realise this till winter was over, but for some time, I just didn't feel like talking to anyone, or even replying emails, just felt very hermit-like. It doesn't help that winter in Moscow lasts as long as 7 months!

"Symptoms of the winter blues may include lethargy, lowered mood, problems sleeping, carbohydrate cravings and weight gain." I've definitely got all the symptoms now. While snow came later this year than last (around 3rd week of November), the days are already really short now. It doesn't get bright till past 9am and it starts to get dark by 3pm. By 4.30pm, it's almost like night.

I find myself climbing back to bed after seeing the boys off in the morning. And still feel pretty lethargic all day. There are of course ways to combat the winter blues, eg force yourself to go out, talk to friends, even UV light therapy. But when you're in the mood for hibernating, that's all you wanna do. You kind of start enjoying the blues, it's a really strange feeling.


Anonymous said...

Yah, I can kinda relate to that. In my first winter I was new to it all, so the novelty kept me alert & interested in everything, so I didn't feel any winter blues.

But I'm more aware of it now. One of the first things I do on getting out of bed is to open all the curtains & all the blinds (I would close most of them at nightfall to minimize heating bills). One of the things about Vancouver is that it is one of the rainiest cities in the world. So on top of having shorter days in winter, it is worsened by having most days being rainy & overcast.

I have a very disciplined & regimental hubby who works from home and who wakes everyday at 6am to trade on the Nasdaq. So I can't 'hibernate' during the day like you do, or he'll nag at me!! I have to keep up at least an appearance of doing some useful housework or otherwise being productively occupied. As for him, he works out everyday. If it isn't raining or snowing he'll hit the tennis courts. If it's raining he'll hit the gym. If it snows, he'll be shoveling. So that keeps his endorphins up all year round!

'Seasonal Affective Disorder' (aka Winter Blues) seems to affect women more than men. Besides light therapy, going out more, etc, another thing that can be done is to plan the night before, what are the things you would want to accomplish the next day, at what time of the day. A sense of accomplishment can elevate mood. Of course, it's easier said than done... I keep telling myself I've gotta do this, but just can't get moving.. ;-P

I also start taking Vitamin D supplements on the days that I don't get exposed to sun. We get most of our Vit D from sunlight and it is now proven that Vit D deficiency during winter can affect a host of things, including mood, and even hormonal metabolism. Just google Vit D and you'll get informed.

One of the benefits of earlier nights is that we end up having earlier dinners. I've always liked the time in the evening after dinner when I know I've done my 'work' for the day and can settle down to do the things I enjoy. I'm a 'night' person whose minds is most alert & whose mood is most elevated during the night. So I tell myself I can enjoy longer evenings during winter!


monlim said...

Sounds tough- I don't think I can survive even one winter - 7 months?? wow... you must have a psyche of steel. Must stock up on dvds then! And bake cupcakes, hehe...

Lilian said...

Mon: I cabut off to sunny Singapore/Malaysia during the worst of winter, ie Dec/Jan, that's why can still cope. Otherwise, aiyoh, can die lah. Any wonder why Russians hardly ever smile?

YY: Gosh, your husband! I wish I had his discipline. The Vitamin D thing is new to me, will check it out.

The boys and Eddie aren't affected at all, cos they still do their regular stuff every day. Eg, this morning, they woke up much earlier, and I only woke up at 10+am. I would have continued to sleep in even longer if I hadn't planned to take the boys to bring gifts to an orphanage at noon. Right after I woke up, the friends we were going with called to say gotta postpone to next week. Aiyoh, now I just want to climb back to bed.

I am actually a very morning person, and can usually never sleep past 8am no matter what. So actually, I'm kinda enjoying this new 'ability' to sleep till noon like many others can! Shiokkkk.

How early do you have your dinners? I never thought of that. We always have dinner at 6pm (without hubby who returns at 830pm earliest), so dinner's still at this time even though it gets dark much earlier.

Anonymous said...

We usually have dinners around 6.30pm, but nowadays we have dinners as early as 5pm. It's already dark by 4.30pm, so the kids will be wondering when's dinner if they don't see me cooking by then, anyway!

The Canadians seem to have early dinners too. Their kids are usually in bed by 8+pm, certainly during term-time, which is mainly during fall & winter, anyway. As the days begin to lengthen during spring, I suspect they go to bed a bit later, certainly so during summer when the sun may not set till 10.30pm. During summer my kids can often still be outdoors playing badminton at 8.30pm.

Here in British Columbia there's the interesting phenomenon of people going to work really early and finishing early too, some as early as 2-3pm. That's because many businesses do business with Toronto, so the effective hours are 3-hours earlier. A lot of mid-week church activities start as early as 7pm. Which means that many people have their dinners really early, too.

For me, the long evenings mean the family gets to spend a lot of time doing things together in the evenings. We have started to borrow a lot of DVDs from the libraries, which we watch together--British comedy series, blockbusters, documentaries..

Yes, having a structured schedule like work or school probably does help a person not to even notice the attrition of daylight...

Take heart, the worst will soon be over. After the winter solstice, which is in a couple of weeks, the days will begin to lengthen.


Lilian said...

My friend told me her angmoh friends' kids go to bed at 7pm. This leaves time for adults to have wine and chill out the rest of the evening.

I tried once to get the boys to bed by 7pm, this was in London. Wahhh, so restless in bed. By 9pm (their usual sleeping time), their eyes were still wide open even though they were lying in bed, forbidden to make any noise. I gave up after that one try.

Yeah, things'll feel better once the days get longer, after 21st or is it 23rd?

bACk in GERMANY said...

After the the 21st, it will be all uphill again! The days will get longer...

Nice what... no low's how to experience high's???

I remember my very first winter (as a student then), I went to sleep at 8pm every night!!!! Loved it! Would still love it now too...

Love the cold and then the first signs of spring.... wow, elation!!!! Anywayz, enjoy hibernation a bit lah... Enjoy the seasons...

Me am going back to Sg for gd liao....
Played my Christmas CD today, and I was thinking, Boy, when I listen to it again next year, it would be in a steam bath environment: no cold, no snow, no Christmas spices in the air.... just hot, hot, hot and humid all day! So un-Christmas!

Lilian said...

I love Christmas in Frankfurt, it really feels so authentic, ahhh, esp the Christmas Market and gluhwein. Lovely. Enjoy my dear.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the pagan origins of X'mas (which the Christians hijacked to become a festival commemorating Jesus' birth), was in celebration of the winter solstice.

I've come to wonder at the happy coincidence of the festivities of Halloween, Thanksgiving, X'mas, falling nicely at the end of October, November & Christmas.

It's almost as if subconsciously, people have a monthly celebration during these gloomy & darkening months to provide occasions for getting out of the house, for fun, feasting & getting together. It breaks the gloom & lifts the spirits. Young & old alike plunge into the communal activities, with much doing up of homes & lighting up of yards.

Come January, although it gets colder, there're the lengthening days and the momentum of a new year to look forward to--so it's not so bad.

The Chinese decided to have a later celebration than the westerners--the Spring festival, which coincides with the coldest month of the year.

I think all these festivals are psychologically pragmatic in a temperate clime.