Wow, this winter just goes on and on!

I’ve actually really enjoyed the winters since coming to Michigan, even looked forward to them. Yes, it’s much colder and snowier than Scotland, but I’ll take cold temps, lots of snow, and sunny days over the Scottish diet of rain, wind, low cloud, and 5-6 hours of daylight (more like greylight) for two months of the year.

People here complain about the “gloomy” Michigan winters, but, believe me, it’s like Hawaii compared to the dark, damp, and dreary winters in the Scottish Highlands. At least you can do something in Michigan winters. I’ve tried cross-country skiing and snowboarding before finally settling on downhill skiing. Even just walking through snow-blanketed forests is such a beautiful, even spiritual, experience.

But then came the “Winter of 2014,” as we will call it when we talk to our grandchildren. So many days have been too cold to spend any time outside; it’s been scary cold at times.

And now even Texas, Georgia, and the Carolinas have been paralyzed by ice and snow, with many lives lost, properties damaged, and businesses struggling.

An additional complication has been an epidemic of SAD (Season Affective Disorder), “a type of depression that is said to be caused by the combination of cold temperatures, precipitation, and shorter days.”

Dr. Norman Rosenthal, the clinical psychiatrist who first described the condition, defines it on his website as “a type of depression that occurs regularly, every autumn and winter, when the days get short and dark, though it may occur at other times as well.” I saw a ton of this in Scotland, among young and old, as did my wife, who’s a family practitioner.

In this report, Rosenthal says that he has “seen a lot of seasonal affective disorder this season.”

There has been a tremendous amount of it around, even in people who think they’ve got it under control…The main factor is darkness. Firstly, there has been a lot of cloud cover. Then, even when it’s been fairly bright outside, it’s still so frigidly cold, so unpleasant, that people minimize their time outdoors. So instead, they are indoors a lot of the time, where there’s a lower light level.

He warns:

Seasonal affective disorder is something you have to look out for. It doesn’t announce itself with a sign bearing its name. It creeps in slowly with drops in energy or weight increases. The symptoms accumulate, and before you know it, you have it.

It’s fair to say that there are some who deny the existence of SAD, but most experts agree that “the deprivation of sunlight, a common side effect of winter weather, can have detrimental effects on the human body and mind. A lack of sunlight – which is said to both deny people a source of vitamin D and inhibit the development of mood-influencing neurotransmitters such as dopamine, epinephrine and serotonin – has negative effects.”

Although it’s always worth asking if there is any deeper underlying cause of SAD, there are a few simple things that may help alleviate symptoms:

  • Get outdoors as much as possible.
  • If indoors, spend time in rooms with large windows and lots of sunlight or use artificial daylight lamps.
  • Exercise regularly and eat well.
  • Don’t set too high expectations of yourself.
  • Meet up with friends.

Here’s a short video a friend and I made on the subject a few years ago. We both just about died of hypothermia in the process.

  • Kim Shay

    I remember watching this video when you first had it out, David, and I really appreciated it, then. Still do.

    Yes, getting outside is so important! When the sun comes out after ten days of gloom, I feel like a new woman.

  • Healing Hope


    Thanks. This is great advice.

    I never appreciated what light does until I encountered a few people with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). When experiencing light the body expends energy and CFSers really feel the effects. God made the body to be constantly active, which is why people shiver when they cold. On this last point, three things to prevent hypothermia besides a warm jacket:
    1. Wear a hat.
    2. Don’t stand in the snow.
    3. Try not to stay outside in freezing weather more than 5 minutes at a time. :)


  • Flora Compton

    Very interesting! Folk think I’m crazy too when I say that I prefer a Canadian Winter to one spent in the dreary, grey Scottish Highlands.

    I have always tried to go out and walk everywhere I need to go, but as I age fear of falling often keeps me indoors. We need to be conscious that elderly people can feel ‘trapped’ indoors in Winter weather and make sure that we visit, keep in contact and take them out so that they do not become depressed.

  • Carole Swets

    Thanks for this article and video! This winter is particularly hard for me and this article really explains why and gives me some direction! Thanks!