Winter Blues Seasonal Affective Disorder: What It Is and How to Overcome It

Winter Blues Seasonal Affective Disorder: What It Is and How to Overcome It

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by Norman E. Rosenthal

Guilford Press; 1993

325 pages; paperback

Hippocrates observed in the fourth century BCE that "whoever wishes to pursue the science of medicine in a direct manner must first investigate the seasons of the year and what occurs in them." This ancient wisdom has lain dormant for centuries as modem medicine has grown increasingly reductionistic, separating not only the individual from the environment and natural rhythms, but also the body itself into smaller and smaller units. With a focus turned toward the molecular level, we have lost sight of the larger, extended macrocosmic perspective. We have forgotten that the human organism has evolved in conjunction with a physical environment over thousands of years, and that our biology is based on natural rhythms of light and dark, variations in temperature -- circadian, circannual, and lunar cycles. Now we sleep, work, and waken to artificial light in an artificially controlled climate. Our bodies evolved in association with a geomagnetic grid, which we now consistently move ov er at paces unnatural to the evolution of our biological systems. Modern technology may allow us to forget these facts, but the internal rhythms of body and brain -- the seasons of the mind -- continue to remember, and to affect us whether we recognize it or not.

The problem arising from this unnatural separation is illustrated clearly by the phenomenon of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and its allied phenomena, including summer and winter depressions, jet lag, and the problems of shiftworkers in adjusting their sleep/wake cycles to nighttime work. Artificial methods of escape from darkness, cold, moisture, and extreme heat have provided us with considerable protection from the effects of the seasons on our bodies, minds, and spirits. With this protection, the changing seasons are mere backdrops. But approximately one in four individuals experiences them with an extreme intensity, often unarticulated: Seasonal transitions trigger extreme changes in mood and energy, and produce sadness and despair in a small proportion of individuals. They may also lead to an altered nutritional pattern geared toward a high consumption of carbohydrates and sweets, or to affect our susceptibility to viral diseases. All these disorders, the author claim s, arise from our unnatural relationship to light.

A pioneer in the field of seasonal studies, Norman E. Rosenthal (MD) is director of light therapy studies at the National Institute of Mental Health. His book points toward a more holistic concept of the human organism, in which our body and its ills are embedded in an extended matrix of light and environmental cues, connected with the seasonal rhythms of nature.

Nola Lewis is a member of the IONS staff

Institute of Noetic Sciences.

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By Nola Lewis

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