“You damn right I got the blues”, Buddy Guy, the legendary blues guitarist from Chicago, growls in one of his signature songs.
Many of us feel the same way come this time of year. We might bark it out loud at our loved ones or whisper it softly to our own inner soul. Either way it’s the same whether you snarl or stew. Don’t despair: you’re not alone. It’s winter. Days are short and cold; nights are dark and long.
There’s temptation to think that the Christmas season was created to help people deal with the transition from late autumn to early winter, as if the parties, glitter, lights, liquor, friends, and food would serve as emotional sustenance to carry us into spring when our disposition could bloom of its own natural accord.
But it’s probably not so. The giddy good tidings of the holidays already seem long past despite it only being early January. Resolutions made are most surely still intact, yet the blues that resonate inside many of us can’t be denied or ignored.
The lack of light
The hangover we harbor weighs heavy on us. Here on the 49th parallel all we see is bleak, barren, black. In our mind, there’s nothing to look forward to until Valentine’s Day, and if that poses no spark, it’s a long, lonely stretch till Saint Paddy’s and the start of spring. We don’t want to wake up in the morning. We don’t want to see our friends at night or on the weekend. Sapped of energy, we withdraw thereby exacerbating our blue mood.
The official term for this condition is Seasonal Affective Disorder. Light deprivation is the primary culprit. The lack of it reduces serotonin, a natural chemical in the body that affects mood. If you came from further north, maybe it isn’t so bad. If you came from further south, maybe it’s really bad.
Regardless, for those of us in the northern hemisphere, December hosts the shortest day of the year. Coupled with the frenzy of the holidays, it’s no surprise that people are adversely affected, women more than men, though male symptoms tend to be much more severe according to the Mayo Clinic website.
Sometimes a “moien” is all it takes
Personally, I found December to be extremely busy. Decorating, baking, shopping, kids’ Christmas concerts, and birthday parties. I felt a pall of inadequacy drape over me. I seemed to do it all poorly, always feeling that more needed to be done. Maybe it was the sense of trying to recreate the type of Christmas I had as a child. Truth be known though, my mom baked better, decorated better, cleaned better, and prepared better. In the end, I resigned myself to mediocrity.
But that’s all in the past. Here I am. Here you are. Here we are. The new year is stretched out before us. Still, we sag in external and internal darkness. It could be so much better, we think to ourselves as we flip through magazines and websites searching for warmer, sunnier climes. Keep in mind, having myself lived on the 59th parallel, it could be much, much worse for a much longer, darker time. Aside from thoughts of flight, there are cheaper, simpler ways to combat the winter blues.
Get out of the house or office more often during the day and go for a walk. It’s a healthy form of exercise. It will put a spring in your step as you hasten the pace to stay warm. Your skin, too, will appreciate the cool, fresh air. Further, you’ll come in contact with others who are beating a path between wherever they came from and wherever they are going. As an added benefit to your thawing soul, look up, smile, and say “Moien”. Human contact is a surefire way to warm the cockles of the heart.
By Dan Franch, January 2013.