Seasonal Affective Disorder and Winter Mindset

What’s your seasonal mindset?

Does Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) increase as latitude increases up into the far polar regions where winter nights are longest?  A recent study from Norway found the opposite: people who live at higher latitudes have stronger coping skills and there is less change in subjective well-being over the course of a year.

Kari Leibowitz, a researcher from Stanford, went to the far north of Norway to study why there appears to be less incidence of SAD at higher latitudes.  She found that peoples’ “mindset” is an important determiner of their well-being during the dark winter days.  She asked study participants to rate their agreement with such statements as “there are many things to enjoy about winter”, “I love the coziness of the winter months” compared with other statements like “winter is boring”, “winter is a limiting time of year”.  Those who saw winter as something to look forward to also scored higher in overall life satisfaction and mental health throughout the season.

While Leibowitz is quick to admit that mindset is not a “cure-all”, and many problems like loss of a job or death of a loved one can’t just be wished away, she also emphasized that learning to control mindset can be “tremendously powerful” once we begin to accept that our feelings are subjective, and therefore not set in concrete.  She, herself found her mindset shifting as she lived in a Norwegian community where people have positive attitudes about winter.  She began to enjoy walks in the dark, and the appearance of a fresh snowfall.

MoodSurfing has often recommended Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) as an alternative or supplement to medication for a variety of chronic mental and mood disorders.  Reframing is an important tool in the CBT toolkit, offering users the chance to decide how they will face a particular challenge or barrier.  An example is offered by a study aimed at helping people overcome fear of public speaking.  Simply saying “I am excited” while waiting to go onstage helped their coping skills and comfort level tremendously. Whether an event or situation is a threat or a challenge depends on many factors, some of which are out of our control.  Nonetheless, mindsets do have considerable power, and the decisions we make in assessing challenges can release energy for change that may otherwise have been spent on defensiveness.  Mindset is a real factor in our mental and physical health and wellness.