Winter doldrums? You’re not out of the dark just yet

Just when spring looked ever nearer, this week’s snowstorm, Washington’s largest of the year, reminded us that winter isn’t over yet. The Cold Weather Blues continue.

March is akin to seasonal purgatory. Neither is it the wintertime basement of early January nor the green renewal of April.

It’s March, and we soldier on.

For those of us whose mental health depends on frequent exposure to sunlight, the lingering gray of this time of year can be torture. The return to Daylight Savings Time this weekend throws us a bone, but there are still bleak weeks ahead before the cherry blossoms bloom.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a condition widely recognized by health professionals as a depression linked to the changing of the seasons, most common during the winter months. The website for the Cleveland Clinic reports that between 4 and 6 percent of the American population experiences SAD, and in the Washington area, the disorder touches about 4 percent of residents.

Dr. Norman Rosenthal wrote the book Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder and runs a private psychiatry practice in Bethesda, Md. He said in a phone interview that this time of year is difficult “for many people for many reasons, but the simplest one is: Winter isn’t over yet.”

“When you get dark days … like [last Monday], it can be depressing,” he said.

Rosenthal provides simple ways people can survive the final throes of glum moods brought on by the cold weather and overcast skies.

• Fight the inclination to hibernate. “There’s a natural tendency among many people to sleep in, be inactive. It’s like we have a bear part of ourselves,” he said.

• Hit the gym. “Exercise is very important,” Rosenthal said. “Try to exercise as many days as you can.”

• Bask in the light — even if it’s artificial. “I find a timer on your bedside lamp so the lamp comes on automatically helps tremendously, because waking up in a bright room is a lot better than waking up in a dark room,” he said.

• Hang out with friends. “Oppose the tendency to want to isolate. Reach out to friends,” Rosenthal said. “You know that old friend you haven’t seen in a while? Maybe it’s time to go have coffee with him or her.”

• Encourage spring to spring. Buy flowers and put them around your house, Rosenthal said. “In my living room, I have this amazing Amaryllis lily. One of my patients called it tulip therapy,” he said.

Rosenthal reminded us that Henry David Thoreau captured in his writing what so many people feel this time of year:

We thus commonly antedate the spring more than any other season, for we look forward to it with more longing. We talk about spring as at hand before the end of February, and yet it will be two good months, one sixth part of the whole year, before we can go a-maying.


If even Thoreau’s words don’t provide any solace, Rosenthal offered a final solution.

“There’s nothing quite like a little trip to the Caribbean to bring in the season early,” he said.