The SAD phenomenon

It is four years and a half since I moved in Norway…My God time flies…isn’t it? I remember the excitement and the fear of the unknown that overwhelmed me before my coming here. These feelings lasted about a year after my installation here. I was so excited and at the same time so anxious because I wanted to survive here, meaning that I had to find myself any kind of job and most important learn the language so I didn’t pay attention to this SAD phenomenon..

And by SAD I mean seasonal affective disorder. Winter is quite literally depressing in Norway and most probably in all these Scandinavian countries. First described in the 1980s, the syndrome is characterized by recurrent depressions that occur annually at the same time each year. Most psychiatrists regard SAD as being a subclass of generalized depression.

When I first came here a friend told me “watch how Norwegians become frenetic and obsessed with the sun”. The first summer we were here I saw many people lied on the grass in the parks, by the riverside, wherever they would have more access to the sun. I smiled with compassion.

Poor me…The luck of sun had started to have an impact on me as well, only I hadn’t realized it by then..

But every year until now we managed to travel either to homeland or to another place during winter time so the fact that we had bought tickets made us kind of more cheerful. Besides we had a circle of friends, some of them were very good ones, so we had the chance to socialize and just hang around with people. But this year something happened to our circle. My best friend here moved for good to homeland, one other friend moved also and we discovered after a sequence of events that we cannot get along with certain friends so we drifted apart …

Therefore I have the winter blues just before Christmas time .. My behavior is quite aggressive sometimes to my partner and so is his, and I find difficult to have energy to do things and experience feelings of hopelessness. Yesterday I couldn’t sleep because of my dark thoughts. I felt like I suffocated and couldn’t breath as if I was in a dead end situation and there is no way out.

In fact I remember now that last year in a cold winter day I was out for a walk with my best friend and we went to the botanical gardens of Oslo. There were some particular tropical plants which needed lots of heat, that’s why there were installed in greenhouses with hot lamps inside. When we entered the greenhouse, this warmth -so familiar to a girl like me coming from Greece -was so soothing and rejuvenating to me that I felt immediately relaxed and at ease that I didn’t want to come out of the greenhouse! The same happened to my friend.

So I have the symptoms of SAD..but what about the Norwegians? Are they experiencing the same thing?

They do get depressed. They are affected by this luck of sun. It is in their genes and that explains why they drink too much and they go mad when they visit warmer countries like Greece.

During the dark season Norway lives indoors. It is often sludgy, slippery and very wet, and the amount of physical work that it takes just to live daily life–the constant dressing and undressing for the outdoors, trudging through a meter of snow, walking on very slippery ice paths, brushing cars of snow every day–can make a lot of people want to stay indoors. Of course when the first snow comes, they go outdoors for langrenn ski. They wear the hi tech ski uniforms and nobody can’t stop them from this. They have been training the whole year so they don’t want to miss that opportunity.

Norwegians love fire. Any chance they get they will light up a candle. It is normal to see many candles on tables and windowsills. Welcome candles are small dishes in the snow by front doors to greet visitors. Shops also use these candles to welcome customers in from the cold as well as open fire torches. Even though the sun can’t be seen, a fire always warms the soul.

By law all buildings and houses have outside lights for safety which are turned up a specific time. During the Christmas season, which lasts til the 13th of January, Christmas lights decorate houses and front garden Christmas trees. So, even the streets are very festive and beautiful in Norway. Window lamps are in every house. Most lamps only give off 40w so they don’t give really a good light. Tee lights are very common as well as a variety of candles around the house. At Christmas you’ll find the traditional 5 or 7 stick candelabra in many windows or a lighted star.

So after last “dark” night I read some things on the internet and would like to share with you.

There are several theories, none of them definitive, relate to the circadian clock or rhythm —the roughly 24-hour oscillation in our behavior and biology that influences when we feel hungry, sleepy or active. This is no surprise given that the symptoms of the winter blues seem to be associated with shortening days and longer nights, and that bright light seems to have an anti-depressive effect. One idea is that some people’s eyes are less sensitive to light, so once light levels fall below a certain threshold, they struggle to synchronize their circadian clock with the outside world. Another is that some people produce more of a hormone called melatonine during winter than in summer—just like certain other mammals that show strong seasonal patterns in their behavior.

Mental health can also take a hit during the year’s darkest days. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a sub-type of depression that involves many of the same symptoms, including loss of energy, lack of interest in enjoyable activities, oversleeping and feelings of hopelessness. Decreased sunlight can cause drops in your body’s production of serotonin, a brain chemical that helps to determine mood. Lack of light can also alter the brain’s balance of melatonin, a chemical produced during the hours of darkness that helps to govern sleep patterns and mood.

So it seems only in case I find an outdoor activity to do or buy the next flight ticket to a warmer country as soon as possible, I am going to make it here. Even all kinds of extra vitamins cannot substitute the sun. And I love the candles, but it is absurd to expect from them to light your inner darkness, isn’t it?

I know I sound very depressive but to be honest it is the job that keeps me going here. But I am not going to speculate what my future will be here. After all people go through several phases in their life. Let’s find out what will be my next phase 🙂

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Always seeking the truth and curious about life mysteries

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