Winter’s Tale


As the cool waft of winter caresses our face, it ushers in an early nightfall. To use a metaphor, winter strikes a chord. It reminds us that it is time for leaves to wobble in the air and bring in more radiance into our life. Yet, when the leaves slowly shed, it tells us to ‘let go’ of things not harmonious to us, our life, or relationships. When we shed our negative thoughts, like falling leaves, it brings us a spark of optimism — to discard the old and ring in new thoughts, new dreams and new hopes.

You may call this the purging, or emptying, process — of letting go of something old to making space for something new. The purging process isn’t easy, thanks to our proclivity to hold on to things. Blame it on our ego, or reluctance to giving up control too. For one who is a control freak, for example, winter is tantamount to displeasure. It is aptly labelled as the season of discontent. Besides, it can also be the time of the year spent in the rut. You guessed it right — depression, or moody blues. It is all in the mind, our emotions, and surplus chemicals circulating in our system. You would do well if only you think of winter as just another time with a predictable pattern, where nightly shadows lead to daylight. You will be happier for it.

The idea of purging one’s negative thoughts, or habits, is not new — it has been in vogue since the dawn of civilisation. For some, purging is a religious exercise; for others, it is a spiritual voyage. This is reason why we have as many practices as methods — from fasting to periods of silence, where time stands still in your mind. Just think of it — if such emptying practices lend a helping hand to the spiritual aspect of the purging, or cleansing process, there are times when one goes through them without an iota of hope. For example, a job loss, the death of a loved one, a messy divorce, or financial debacle. This also leads to instinctive, or unconscious, cleansing. It heightens our emotional thoughts; it expresses the archetypal emptying process, because many of us would, by way of reflex, think of our lives as nothing but chapters full of ups, downs, profit, loss, balance and imbalance.

Yet, the fact remains that there’s a higher purpose to letting go in the midst of change. This mirrors a promise — a pledge we all owe to ourselves that something of equal, or greater, value will always follow change. To pick a philosophical paradigm. It is rightly said that to be in the world we should experience as many positive thoughts as possible, without getting marooned in gloom. This adds to our optimal health and well-being — this is also, in part, essential wisdom. It helps us to run the full distance in our journey on planet earth with relative comfort and savour life to the full. It is also, ironically, our greatest challenge.

On the other hand, it is almost a norm for sceptics among us to relate to the purging process as a huge waste of time. This actually represents fear; also, ambiguity. It is equivalent to reaching the top of a peak, looking over the edge, taking a step back, and hoping that there is another route. There is, of course, just one path. This is to let go fully and descend with both feet. You’d call it a huge leap of faith. It inspires us to see the big picture, not just the image, for realising life’s fresh insights.

Sadness and other negative feelings are a part of life — everyone has them, sometime, including a mild case of ‘blues.’ Medical researchers say that there may be a biochemical foundation to such responses. Or, depression may be ‘biologically- or genetically-based.’ Neurotransmitters in the brain are another likely cause of depression — a common problem in winter. Neurotransmitters are chemicals released across a small space between a neuron, the basic unit of the nervous system. Low levels of one neurotransmitter — norepinephrine — at the receptor sites are suggested to trigger, or cause, depression.

A major decline in one’s mood may occur as a reaction to lack of sunlight, through the winter months, what with changes in the inner biological clock that runs us all. This includes new, or full moon nights. Some depressed individuals may present with symptoms of depression only during winter, or autumn, with heightened appetite, weight gain and drowsiness, along with a craving for carbohydrates — a ‘classical’ sign. This condition is called seasonal affective disorder [SAD].

Sunlight exposure stimulates the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that helps control your circadian rhythm — the body’s internal 24-hour sleep-wake clock. Lack of light can wobble your circadian rhythm. This can cause your brain to produce too much of the sleep hormone melatonin and release less serotonin, the feel-good brain chemical, that affects mood. The result of this chemical imbalance? You feel low, tired, also lethargic. Other common symptoms of SAD include lack of sexual energy and social withdrawal. SAD affects more than just mood. It is associated with impaired cognitive function, including problems with concentration and working memory.

As medical and clinical psychologists, Kathryn A Roeckle and Kelly J Rohan, articulated in their paper, “Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview and Update,” published in the peer-reviewed journal, Psychiatry, “SAD provides a “natural laboratory’ for studying depression vulnerability, onset, maintenance, recurrence, and treatment response. SAD is likely to result from a complex interplay between environmental, biological, and psychological factors. The established efficacy of light therapy and a variety of newly emerging treatment approaches to SAD affords providers with flexible options that can be tailored to individuals, keeping in mind patient compliance and perceived palatability of the treatment plan as important considerations.”

— First published in The Himalayan Times, Nepal