Winter blues: Seasonal affective disorder time at hand in Siouxland
SIOUX CITY -- The sun sets near 5 p.m., and the number of daylight hours is at one of the lowest points of the year.
Siouxland is entering the full brunt of winter, when snow and cold weather drives and keeps most residents indoors. Since the days aren’t remotely filled with the sunlight, some people wrestle with problems of seasonal joylessness.
This is the period Heather Satterwhite burrows into her Sioux City home on most weeknight evenings. Once she’s home in the late afternoon from work, Satterwhite doesn’t like to leave, as she works through the sometimes severe blues known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.
She’s struggled with the winter blues for a few decades, even before she knew seasonal affective disorder was a likely culprit.
″“Waking up to it being dark and getting off work when it’s dark is extremely depressing. I don’t want to go anywhere. I don’t have any energy. Nothing seems to bring me happiness...I’m pretty sure I’ve had this as long as I can remember,” Satterwhite said.
While she likes that the days get longer by about two minutes per day after Dec. 21 solstice, Satterwhite also knows there are a lot of shut-in days with winter weather ahead.
“It seems like there are a lot of people that don’t love it when it gets dark so early. Whether or not they feel anxiety or sadness, I don’t know. I’m only aware of a few people that actually are emotionally and physically affected by it, such as myself,” she said.
John Donovan, of Sioux City, said the short days lead to doleful feelings.
“I am very cyclical with the sun. When the sun sets, I shut down,” Donovan said.
Dr. Steven Joyce, a physician at Mercy Medical Center-Sioux City, said about five percent of people in the U.S. suffer from seasonal affective disorder, also commonly called the winter blues.
Joyce said medical professionals have been aware of SA, a form of depression, associated with the changes in seasons, for a few decades. It can leave a person feeling fatigued and irritable, wreak havoc on sleep cycles and lead to an increase or decrease in appetite.
“SAD mimics depression in many ways, with sadness, feeling down or blue or depressed, with a lack of motivation or doing enjoyable things, sleeping more,” Joyce said.
Once it starts getting dark by 7:30 p.m. in October, or a few weeks before clocks move back by an hour due to Daylight Savings Time, that’s when Satterwhite “really starts to feel the anxiety and sadness.”
Satterwhite said she needs to be watchful, because depression runs in her family. Her father suffered from depression and committed suicide in 2001.
During the winter, Satterwhite eats less, ups usage of an anxiety medication and sees a counselor more frequently. She’s grateful for her high school son, Cole, and boyfriend, Kevin Van Sickle, to help her get through some situations.
“Internally, I don’t feel happy. I have to continually tell myself that this is only temporary. I tell everyone I’m in hibernation mode. I shut the shades as soon as I get home from work. For example, I notice when I let the dog outside at night that I will just barely open the door to let him out,” she said.
There are ways to combat SAD, Mercy’s Joyce said.
“Get as much sunlight as possible. Sometimes people use light therapy to help this. Get out of the house, do things with people you’d usually enjoy,” he said.
Satterwhite is pleased to have seen the price come down on a portable UV light for her home that she believes can improve her mood. The one she’s investigating uses filtered UV light to stimulate the production of brain chemicals like serotonin, which is linked to mood and sleep. The manufacturer recommends being near the light from 10 to 60 minutes per day.
“I have always wanted one of these lights. Glad to see they have cheaper ones out there now,” Satterwhite said.
Donovan also uses a UV light to combat his seasonal affective disorder.
“I don’t seem to need it on the front side of the equinox, but by January I do,” Donovan said.
Donovan likes the exercise of bicycling, and laments that outside coping mechanism is mostly gone in the winter. He also walks the family dogs less.
Donovan, a transplant to Iowa, said the three best winters for him came with the infusion of joy he got in mid-fall, to delay the onset of SAD. Those came in the years of 2010, 2012 and 2014, when he rode the bubble of fun from the San Francisco Giants winning World Series titles.
As with every winter, Satterwhite keeps her mind on the better months down the line.
“I do not like the snow or cold at all. I don’t see any point in it...I find myself constantly daydreaming about the summer. I’m counting down the days till we spring forward. My favorite time of year is during the summer solstice in June,” she said.