Northeast Ohio and Seasonal Affective Disorder

Snow and cold don’t bother me that much. And I’ll run outside most days as long as the temperatures are in the teens — and the wind, if any, is coming from the south. Today wasn’t one of those days. First, way too cold this morning; near zero as best I can tell. Second, I don’t see well in the dark these days, and I’m getting more and more concerned about falling on the ice. Hey, once the state of Ohio sends you the Golden Buckeye you might as well face your own mortality — as well as accept the discounted movie tickets. So I chased the treadmill for 50 minutes watching the local TV news.

Something tells me that being tethered to the house is true for a lot of people — particularly, dare I say it? — seniors living in Northeast Ohio and similar parts of the country during the winter.

I thought about that yesterday. My mother-in-law is staying with us this week. She’s in her late 80s and in generally good health. But she doesn’t leave the house much, if at all, this time of year. Her days are spent pretty much anchored to the TV. Same for my mom and dad in Pittsburgh. Both afraid of falling now on the ice. My dad no longer driving. My mom shaky at best behind the wheel.

Here’s the point. I still visit or talk to my doctor routinely. As I’ve mentioned here previously, she is trying to keep me alive by having my thyroid function properly. But when I talk to her this time of year she always asks me how my spirits are. Kind of how am I making it through the winter. The reason? People with a low thyroid — one that in effect is under performing — often have symptoms that lead doctors to incorrectly diagnose and treat for depression: mood swings, weight gain, lack of enthusiasm, general malaise.

But she also tells me that during the winter here she sees a lot of people who just complain of “having the blues.” Holidays are history. Cold and snow. Gray skies. No wonder. But the fact is that this can be a symptom of depression — seasonal affective disorder. And like thyroid disease, it often goes untreated. Here’s from the Mayo Clinic online:

Like many people, you may develop cabin fever during the winter months. Or you may find yourself eating more or sleeping more when the temperature drops and darkness falls earlier. While those are common and normal reactions to the changing seasons, people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) experience a much more serious reaction when summer shifts to fall and on to winter.

With seasonal affective disorder, fall’s short days and long nights may trigger feelings of depression, lethargy, fatigue and other problems. Don’t brush this off as simply a case of the “winter blues” that you have to tough out on your own.

Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression, and it can severely impair your daily life. That said, treatment — which may include light box therapy — can help you successfully manage seasonal affective disorder. You don’t have to dread the dawning of each fall or winter.

So even in the depths of winter, keep active: walk, run, ski. And particularly for those you know who are more inactive during the winter, don’t discount complaints of “the winter blues.” It can be a serious health issue.

Yet always remember. We’re one day closer to spring.

And Bush will be out of the White House next week.

That should help too.

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3 responses to “Northeast Ohio and Seasonal Affective Disorder

  1. I love that one of the automatically generated possibly related posts is entitled “February is a Bitch of Month.” Ain’t that the truth.

    Interesting post, Rob. I think SAD and the winter blues stretch far beyond those lucky enough to hold the Golden Buckeye card. I have to mentally prepare for these winter months and fight against the manic depression that comes along with winter. If the winter blues escalate as you get older, I might not even make it to my Golden Buckeye days.

    That’s it…I’m replacing my fluorescent with a plant bulb…

  2. Well, I guess “February is a Bitch of Month.” But it’s a month closer to spring. Winter is tough here in NE Ohio. The never-ending gray, for me, is the worst. But you’ll be back running half-marathons in no time — and cursing the heat.

  3. In the new Runner’s Calendar, Marty begins by citing a study done by Duke University Med. School studying depression. They found that running is as effective as drugs to treat short term depression and more effective than drugs for long term treatment.

    But it’s very interesting about thyroid, seasonal depression and etc. Having lived in several different places during the winter, however, I have to say that NE Ohio is the worst for sure. When there’s no sun, and almost no hope for sun, you can get stuck in a rut. So– until you finally abandon the NE Ohio ship for sunnier places, keep up the running (even if it is on the treadmill!)

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