Battling SAD in biting winter

  • Aarish Chhabra, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Apr 06, 2015 13:02 IST

If there wasn’t the soaring sargam of Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to divert attention every few hours, only God knows what this season of foggy depression would have made me do. Physical chores made more difficult than ever, mental faculties attuned to pointlessly negative thoughts, and the subconscious playing real and imagined sad scenes from the past and future, I can’t help but wonder every December-January: What is it that people like about this biting winter?

If you live in northern India, particularly in a town called Chandigarh in the foothills where an unreasonable wind seldom stops blowing, the advent of the cold season is marked by a tingling sensation in your extremities. For a few days, the temperature keeps sliding at a deceptively gradual pace. Suddenly, rain arrives and washes all the warmth away. Before you know it, the night snatches the evening away from your day as the sun turns too lazy to even complete a proper work shift.

I understand the romance for a few days, when it’s nippy. In fact, that’s probably why the hills have always been calling many of us to shift up there and open a dhaba or something. That’s the dream. But that’s not the point.

The point is, when it turns biting cold, it is hard to imagine a world beyond the layers of sheets and blankets and quilts. When you have a job to do, and it starts and ends after dark, and it even involves dealing with suicide reports, it is harder still to stop yourself from buying a rope that would be long enough to reach the ceiling fan and strong enough to hold your weight as you kick that stool away and fall into nothingness. See, that’s what I’m talking about! Hell is hot, certainly warm, I’ve heard.

But it’s not just a feeling; it’s a science. Popular health writer Martin Downs writes on that winter depression — also known as ‘seasonal affective disorder’, a term that produces the rather appropriate acronym SAD — remains a mystery to those who study it. Some blame it on brain chemicals, others on ions in the air, and some cry genetics. There is no consensus.

Like always, one must turn to the internet. There are articles about how to commit suicide. Don’t read them. SAD has remedies. Chief among them is ‘light therapy’. Now don’t just start staring at your table lamp. There are actually these things called ‘light therapy boxes’ that produce the effect of sunshine. The recommended period is half an hour and the therapy is most effective in the morning, research says. The research does not explain why these boxes are not available on Indian shopping websites. And won’t you feel stupid sitting in front of a box, sun-bathing, sort of?

Anti-depressant pills are recommended too, if you can get a prescription from a psychiatrist. Some experts simply say SAD can be defeated by going out for a jog or exercising at a gym. Well, that’s just lazy advice. In my part of the world, the last fortnight alone has seen at least three days of continuous drizzle, and seven no-sun days. Do these guys really expect me to go out and challenge the weatherman to a duel? To be honest, right now I have an itch to scratch but there are countless layers of clothes to tackle before I reach it. That’s problematic enough.

Yet another advice, which I think can work under any circumstances and for all ills, is to pack your bags and leave for a vacation. You don’t have to travel to a particularly warm place. A change of surroundings is enough even if you are chasing snow up in the mountains that are colder, weather-wise, than Chandigarh. But it’s hard for most people to get more than two weeks off at a stretch. We are, after all, victims of EMIs.

The deadliest among these alleged remedies is that you must limit the intake of caffeine and alcohol. Ignore the science, I say.

What, then, are your options if you want to get rid of SAD?

Apart from reading inconsequential articles by fellow patients and, of course, feeling sorry for yourself, you could always ask Nusrat and his qawwal party to distract you until summer arrives. Also, remember that this, too, shall pass.

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