Have you ever felt anxious, irritable and depressed as the cold season approaches? Do you feel plainly miserable and you feel you have trouble dealing with any of your usual activities? Wouldn’t you prefer to stay in bed and sleep all day? According to results of scientific studies, most people experience changes in mood, dislike the notion of days getting shorter and darker and tend to sleep and eat more during autumn and winter. The infamous “winter blues” affect not only humans, but also other animals. However, when these conditions become severe enough to be considered symptoms and disrupt normal life, you cannot talk anymore about “winter blues”: we’re in the realm of a fully recognized mental disorder, the Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD.
SAD is said to be the result of an imbalanced brain chemistry caused by lack of bright light, which is why the disorder appears mainly during late autumn and winter, with a few cases also in the early spring. Women and younger people, children in particular, are the most vulnerable. Moreover, populations inhabiting the Northern countries are proved to suffer more intensely from this condition. Basically, the farther from the equator, where differences between hours of dark and hours of light are not that noticeable from a season to the other, the more common and severe symptoms become.
Although this is the worldwide average, a recent study that examined more than 2000 people, found that rates of SAD in Icelanders seem to be unusually low in both sexes. The study suggests that Icelanders, contrary to other Northern populations, seem to not be affected by seasonal changes at all. Also among Canadians of Icelandic descent SAD levels are significantly lower. Whether there is a genetic factor involved or not, it’s not certain. Some suggested it may be a matter of different diet, but this explanation seems unable to fully justify the results.
Leaving aside science and statistics, I am not Icelander and I can only speak for myself. I sort of liked the sense of quiet you got when you were little and you were staying at school in the afternoons, and outside the windows it got dark little by little, and you were full of expectation at the idea of going home, where it was warm and you could go on with your business without feeling forced to do anything. I liked the smell of late autumn and winter, the toned-down colors and sounds, the fact time seemed to be flowing very slow and everything looked safer seen from the windows. If only it weren’t for homework…
When I woke up this morning, around 11 am – late for many, but not for me as I am mainly active during the night time – the sun was very low and a dusky light was projecting long shadows on the walls. It created a very pleasant atmosphere. It didn’t get much brighter than that, and around 4 pm it was already almost time for the sun to set. More than a person I know would have freaked out with only a few hours of dim light ahead. Many Southerners have the annoying tendency to brag about their love for endless sunny days, summertime, and all the things implied with them, like the sunbathing, the socializing, the etc. More than people prone to be affected by SAD, they always sounded to me like a bunch of crazed iguanas that have to bask in sunshine and useless chat for hours to function properly.