Watching The Bachelor to Combat Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Celebrating the winter is an empirically recommended intervention.

Posted Jan 11, 2019

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Every year, the period of time following the holidays marks a slump in mood across the nation. In fact, the foremost expert on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and author of Winter Blues, Dr. Norman Rosenthal, discusses this very image: The twinkling holiday lights come down, the wrapping paper is put away and we await a long several months until there are longer days and sunshine in our future. During this time, mood starts to drop and hopelessness can develop.

In his book Winter Blues, Rosenthal discusses much of the research on the various types of Seasonal Affective Disorder as well as shares case studies of individuals with their own unique presentation of the disorder.  It is estimated that roughly 10 million Americans suffer from SAD and another 10-20% have a mild form of the disorder.  Further, women are four times more likely to develop SAD than men and age of onset is typically between age 18 and 30; basically the same targeted demographic that watches reality television shows such as The Bachelor

While it may sound downright ridiculous, among the most common treatments for SAD include interventions such as a “positive attitude” regarding the winter, as well as finding reasons to celebrate the season. Certainly, anti-depressant medications, light therapy, diet, exercise, and CBT therapy are well-established interventions. But that is also predominantly geared toward the 10 million Americans with the disorder. What about the other nearly 65 million Americans with a “mild” form of the disorder? The truth is, they find ways to cope, and frankly, they can be unconventional.

Where I live in Oregon, it appears the SAD situation is particularly dire; a recent report from 2017 ranked Portland, Oregon as the number one most depressed city in the nation. Not that I’m surprised to say the least, as my husband and I often bemoan slow service, disorganization, and a general malaise that we observe whether in a restaurant or picking up lamps at a furniture store.  Portland’s particular combination of cloud cover (permacloud, as we call it) and short days (streetlights sometimes turn on at 3 p.m., signifying nighttime) causes a powerful phenomenon to be reckoned with. 

Hence, January in my house marks the unofficial season for weekly The Bachelor viewings complete with bubbly drinks, popcorn, cozy blankets, and lit candles. In fact, I’ve been known to buy a dozen red roses from Trader Joe’s on occasion just to fully mark the experience. It doesn’t really matter if the guy is a dud (although those seasons can definitely be tougher to get excited about), or the women are particularly painful to watch (they eventually get booted). At the end of the day, the television season marks a roughly 13-week countdown to March, which is essentially springtime. At the very least a cheesy albeit entertaining show can provide some ritual and comfort along the way through those short stormy nights.

Even though March does not guarantee those spring showers that bring May flowers (although again, in Oregon it’s shower weather year-round), it does, however, leave time for booking some travel in a southward direction whether by plane or car. In fact, proactively booking travel, even a short weekend getaway, can be another small exciting event to put the extra pep in your step (research indicates the period of planning a trip can actually outweigh the joy from the actual travel itself!).

Of course, while for serious cases of SAD, medical and therapeutic intervention is highly necessary, adopting some of the treatment approaches for mild conditions can also be helpful. Being sure to exercise, eat well and even experimenting with light therapy can help those with a tendency toward seasonal depression. Finding the small joys in winter can help, because after all the darkness helps us to appreciate the light. In fact, there is a type of summer seasonal depression in areas with too much sun and long dreadfully hot days. So no matter where your locale is, be sure to practice self-care. It might involve popping some popcorn and a little television indulgence, but it’s important to help keep your spirits high once the magic of the Christmas spirit has worn off.