Discussing the implications of SAD

Anna Malesiewski, Features Editor

Growing up in Erie, every winter I hear it referred to as “Dreary Erie.”

And it can be incredibly dreary. As I write this, I am looking out the window at a gray sky, watching the wind blow through barren trees and staring at a backyard that is devoid of any color.

People all over the northern hemisphere experience long, cold and dark winters, but few as intense as those of Erie.

For those with Seasonal Affective Disorder, like myself, this can be a nightmare.

In fact, just the other day, I was actually experiencing a real sense of fear for the upcoming months, because I know how the winter dreariness of Erie will affect my mental health and my mood.

Seasonal Affective Disorder can be really debilitating. And it’s really frustrating that something as volatile as the weather can have such a strong impact on our feelings, moods and emotions.

According to a survey done by Wakefield, 11% of people have moved because of the weather. Wanting to move in search of better weather is not outlandish at face value; research does show that sun and warmth can boost one’s mood. Psychology has long known of the relationship between weather and mood — Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience, a psychology journal, notes the “seasonal exacerbation of psychiatric symptoms.”

Sunshine does indeed impact our serotonin — neurotransmitters that improve mood. And when it starts getting dark at 5 p.m. like it does in Erie (and even when it is daytime, the sky is gray), people with Seasonal Affective Disorder can experience disrupted circadian rhythms. This can interfere with sleep cycles, adding another layer to the lowering of well-being that occurs during the winter months for those with this disorder.

Temperature also plays a role in overall happiness. A study published by the American Meteorological Society in 2013 found that 57 degrees Fahrenheit is the optimal temperature for happiness — and in Erie, it feels like it’s this temperature for a whopping five days.

So, what’s the secret to beating Seasonal Affective Disorder? Moving to somewhere warmer? Well, not quite.

While humans do thrive in homeostasis, we are generally really bad at enjoying anything for too long. Whether we’ve lived in Dreary Erie or Sunny Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for years, either way human beings tend to get dissatisfied with staying in the same conditions for too long.

In a study done in the 1990s by Daniel Kahneman and David Schkade, both Midwesterners and Californians were asked to rate their own overall life-satisfaction, as well as to make a guess at what the other group’s was. While both groups showed the same ratings of satisfaction, both groups thought Californians were the happiest due to the warmer weather.

To help deal with my Seasonal Affective Disorder, it honestly helps to realize that I can’t move to sunny California right now. Wishful thinking does me no good.

Especially if you have Seasonal Affective Disorder, try and find your own sunshine in the bleak, gray sky. Romanticize the weather that you’ve long been conditioned to hate.

Put on your coziest outfit for class. Make a warm cup of coffee, watch the inevitable snowfall out the window and put on some smooth jazz while you write that paper you’ve been putting off. Hit up a Bath and Body Works holiday candle sale and find some scents that will make you want to sit in your room and enjoy them.

We’ve got this. Winter won’t last forever.