A woman hiding behind dark hair with shades of grey shadows in front of her.

Gray Days and Mood Disorders

Late autumn and winter are my least favorite seasons, and it’s not because of the cold air temperatures. I don’t have a work routine to keep up with so I have the option of staying in bed a bit longer on chilly mornings. There’s nothing nicer than being snuggled up in bed under a favorite blanket and greeting the new day at my own pace. Even those leisurely moments in the morning routine can’t counteract the effect fall and winter hold on my overall mood.

When the sun never fully comes out

Today is a hint of what’s to come in the next few month - the sun never fully came out, a stark contrast from the past few weeks of sunny blue skies. It is a harbinger of the gray days ahead that hung in the sky and turned my mood downward.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh in Gift from the Sea, summed up this feeling of going from sunny days to gray skies and all it’s subconscious messaging quite concisely when she wrote-

“A day out of season, stopping the monotonous count of summer days. Stopping, too, one’s own summer route, so that, looking out on the gray skies, one says not only ‘What time of year is it?’ but, ‘What time of life am I in? Where am I? What am I doing?" – Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Are you SAD?

Seasonal affective disorder is appropriately known by the acronym SAD, and although I’ve never been officially diagnosed, I have no doubt the season of gray and shortened daylight days affect my mood. I’m already feeling the drag, just sitting here typing and looking out the window at the wind blowing the remaining leaves off the trees against a backdrop of the sky with no hint of blue. I suspect many of us feel the same way.

SAD is a form of depression

People with multiple sclerosis already have a greater chance of experiencing depression. That can come from the situation of living with a chronic disease or caused by the MS disease process on the brain, or even both. Either way, depression can be a serious condition and is usually treatable with therapy or pharmaceutical agents. SAD is also a form of depression, and can be treated with different techniques such as using a lightbox to simulate daylight and taking time to be outdoors where a bit of natural light comes through to our brains even when the sky is gray.

Miriam Franco, PsyD MSCS, Psychotherapist and Psychoanalyst, MSAA’s Healthcare Advisory Council writes about SAD, saying it affects about 5% of the population. She points out that people with MS can have depression and SAD, a double whammy for emotions.

Can you pass the test?

Who better to understand the effects of short days on mood than people who live in northern Canada? The Moods Disorders Association of Manitoba has a sample of the Seasonal Patterns Assessment tool online which made me really think about my changes of mood over a year. This questionnaire allowed me to reflect about my behaviors, physical changes, and mood swings over 12 months. I would recommend you look it over if you think you might be affected by the seasons.

The National MS Society website offers tips on managing depression that also apply to SAD. These include making sure we get regular exercise, maintaining contact with friends and family (our social networks), and getting regular medical care.

Looking after our emotional wellbeing

Living with MS we know to look after our physical care, but it is also important that we tend to our emotional and psychological well-being. If you think you might need help in adjusting to the coming days of winter, be sure to reach out to your medical team.

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