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Seasonal Affective Transformation, the War Within:

Mood Spectrum:

Everyone recognizes the difference between depressed and withdrawn on one hand and
cheerful and outgoing on the other hand. However, looking further, one can see two
parameters at play in determining mood. The first parameter is represented with a spectrum
of high mood through low mood. High mood comes in the form of excessive activity,
inability to sit still, impulsiveness and so forth. Low mood comes in the form of limited
activity, limited movement of limbs during walking, lack of enthusiasm toward happenings
and so forth. The second parameter is represented by a spectrum of pleasant mood through
unpleasant mood. Pleasant mood presents as a positive outlook on the person’s immediate
environment, is associated with optimism and with tolerance for other people’s indiscretions
and so forth. Unpleasant mood presents as a negative outlook on the person’s immediate
environment, is associated with negative thoughts and pessimism and may be a conduit for
bigotry and intolerance of people’s indiscretions.

Sensitive people seem to possess a stronger relationship with low/high than with
positive/negative mood spectrum. Sensitives may learn or grow into positive mood, but do
not seem to possess a natural tendency toward it. The low/high mood dominance over the
positive/negative mood may be related to an overactive stress system. Many insensitive people
cite our apparent unpleasantness as a reason for their inability to make a connection with
sensitive people they meet. This is only apparent unpleasantness related to feeling
overwhelmed by the profound challenges we are facing.
MOOD SPECTRUM: Difference between sensitive and neurotypical mood spectrum; sensitives tend to hover between low and high mood; neurotypicals tend to hover between positive and negative mood
Figure 7: MOOD SPECTRUM – color image http://bit.ly/psafig

Summer – Winter Transition:

There seems to be a general tendency, population wide toward negative thinking and lower
mood during fall and winter, and a general tendency toward optimism, higher mood and
impulsivity during the spring and summer seasons. To explore this premise further, I
reviewed crime data from several regions in the United States, Australia and other parts of the
world. I thought one has to catch humanity at its worst in order to deduce behavioral
undercurrents. Here is what I found out. Crimes against property such as burglaries,
smashing of headlights and so forth flourish during fall and winter. These are considered
crimes of revenge or desperation where the criminal shies away from facing the victim [the
target of the criminal’s negative thoughts]. On the other hand, crimes of aggression, initiative
and impulsivity where the criminal seeks to face the victim flourish during spring and
summer. These include assault, sexual assault, murder and so forth.

I am fully confident that almost all of the readers of this book would never raise their arm in
violence or plot to take revenge on any one. However, the brief presentation of crime data
tells us about uncontrollable extreme manifestations of emotional trends otherwise common in
a profoundly more subtle way to all people.

Humans take their clues from the lunar and solar cycles. During times of relative abundance
of sunshine and relatively predictable hours of sun exposure, it is easier for the brain to
regulate sleep, daytime energy and prevailing mood. During times of relative deprivation of
sunlight, as in the fall and winter seasons, it becomes more difficult for the brain to perform
some of the regulatory functions needed. Many people and especially many sensitive people
sink into lower and more negative mood during fall and winter. This is a behavioral complex
that has been called seasonal affective disorder. Of course, the term disorder has no merits
here but this is the identifying term used by mainstream medicine.

Seasonal affective transformation favoring lower mood, likely persistence of negative
thoughts, fatigue and difficulty retrieving information from memory in many sensitive people
is related at least in part to the disrupted relationship with the sun. The changes usually have a
negative impact on the person’s productivity professionally, and on personal and intimate
relationships.

January is the globally recognized most depressive month of the year. November and
December are the two most depressive months next to January. Since most depression is
acquired from the surrounding events, it maybe the crescendo effect that is constituted of the
holidays, crowds, traffic, meeting & gifting family, repetitive monotonous carols & scenery,
everybody else pretending to be happy, and certainly who they are not, absence of sunlight,
stagnant air, short day light hours, storms and wind and so forth.

All these factors have a dampening effect on the psyche. It is said that a few physiologic
peculiarities accompany the seasonal affective transformation. One of these is a decline in
serotonin secretion in the brain and/or decline in the number of available serotonin receptors.
Another one is a shift in the daily rhythm of the HPA axis in a way that peak performance is
moved from its usual time in the morning to sometime later in the days (noon or even
afternoon). This shift indicates that the brain lost contact with the 24-hour cycle and thus
some of its rhythms drift in favor of longer cycles (sometimes 30 hours and sometimes
longer than that). A third change is the decline in the effectiveness of the brain in inducing the
adrenal glands to produce cortisol. A fourth change is the decline in vitamin D production and
secretion. There are many other components but the above are all manageable by currently
available tools.  

Personally, I don't have a magic formula but I have found out that exposure to sunlight in the
morning for 30 - 90 minutes can be very helpful. Whether this is direct sunlight, a full
spectrum light box, or a blue light box, any of these choices can provide similar help. Testing
one’s adrenal glands during the fall season may provide your doctor with valuable input to
help through the season. Additionally, vitamin D supplementation daily is very helpful. Eating
bananas, pineapple and plantain can also help.

Relaxation techniques and stress management techniques are overrated in seasonal affective
transformation; frankly increased activity is the key; as long as the activity is fulfilling or at
least neutral, non-frustrating. When the activity is associated with frustrating outcomes, then
it is not productive and one has to find that parallel line of productive activity to prevent
negative thoughts from dominating the mind. Examples are stretching exercises, short walks,
going to favorite places, being around like-minded people or researching further means to
customize your life (clean indoor air, balanced humidity…)! Anything that can fight off
negative thinking is helpful. Year after year, I am finding out that the best policy is to begin
prevention in September with the different things mentioned above so the winter season
would pass smoothly.

Winter – Summer Transition:

Imagine mood swinging on a pendulum. During the winter, season the pendulum swings
towards lower more negative mood. During springtime, there is a rebound swing toward
higher, more irritable mood. In addition, during either season the pendulum can swing
temporarily further in either direction based on the circumstances. I had been struggling with
the winter summer transition for a while. As it turns out, for many sensitive people, when
spring begins (March-April) they experience advancement in their circadian rhythm where the
day for them is subconsciously shortened to less than 24 hours. This is why many begin to
wake up earlier and this is why they have all sorts of changes in their body, including more
prominent hot flashes (especially in women), typically because they do not have all their
hormone rhythms synchronized to the earlier waking time. They end up compensating
through backup systems for alertness and energy and that result in an active yet easily
irritable demeanor. A shrinking sleep-wake cycle can also precipitate panic attacks,
headaches, sleep disturbances, heartburn, change in bowel habits and so forth.

A compounding factor for the uneasiness of the winter spring transition is the so called
“daylight savings time”. I realize that concept was brought forth by a respectable and some
would argue a genius founding father (Benjamin Franklin). I also realize in his calculations he
did no factor in the emotional toll it takes on sensitive people. I have always known how
miserable and difficult the first few days after advancing the clock can be for sensitive
people. However, what I found out recently, is that the sudden and imposed loss of one hour
of sleep has further reaching consequences. A few scientists in Karolinska University in
Sweden took the time to crunch the numbers. These arguably lone wolves in the prairie
found out from hospital records that the number of heart attacks significantly increases in the
first 3 days following advancing the clock. It has been my consistent observation that any
time humanity departs from the natural and dwells into the unnatural the consequences are
always negative and untoward. Is it worth it to advance the clock for whatever paper money
reasons I ask?

Anyway, one of the steps that I have found helpful for a smoother winter-summer transition
include light therapy in the morning (7 – 8 AM) and evening (7 – 8 PM), for thirty minutes
each time. By adding a light therapy session in the evening one would be helping the body
stretch the sleep-wake cycle back to 24 hours.

Some mainstream neurologists, sleep doctors, and most wholistic doctors understand the
process of phase shift – prolonged circadian cycle during winter or phase expansion followed
by a rebound shortening of the circadian cycle during spring or phase contraction. There are
many suitable behavioral, herbal and medical interventions, which work quite well to cope
with the winter blues and the winter-spring transition.

The increased activity and higher mood usually happening around the spring transition can be
made into a wonderful and fulfilling period if used constructively for growth. However, when
the high mood turns into intense feelings for gambling or when the neighbor’s wife suddenly
becomes ten times sexier than she has ever been or when one trip to the mall consumes a
two months’ salary, then something has to be done about it. Going to an enlightened doctor
can help you manage the elevated mood and in redirecting the energy toward growth and
exploring your passion(s) in life.

Note: if at any point during seasonal transitions you feel overwhelmed by life and develop an
urge to remove yourself from the counts of the living, it is imperative to seek professional
help. Any questions that occur to you relating to whether life is worthwhile or whether you
can continue to endure your challenges require immediate help from a healthcare professional.
Sometimes the mind and body get so exhausted that the soul goes along or is silenced. You
may not be able to face this alone. There is no shame in feeling these feelings and no shame
in seeking help for them. I cannot speak to the mind or the body but I can speak to the soul.
Whatever problems we feel make life difficult or intolerable will continue to live with the soul
regardless of whether the body is alive or not. If challenges of the soul are not resolved in
this lifetime, then they will linger around for the soul to grapple with in future lifetimes. There
is no point in temporarily escaping problems. However, there is every benefit and reward in
taking on the challenges no matter what they maybe. Inner peace is only achieved through
resolving hanging problems. Escape never resolved anything.