With the past couple weeks full of snow and sleet and several more before that of cold temperatures, this past weekend was a welcomed chance to get outdoors and soak up some unseasonable warmth ... even if it was short lived.
Experts admit there's some truth to the perception that short days, cold temperatures that tend to keep a person indoors, and lack of sunshine combine to have a "mental effect" on humans. Just like Jack Torrence, Jack Nicholson's character in "The Shining", spending large amounts of time in isolation can really have an effect on people.
Dan Bullock, St. Francois County Sheriff, said, “We see a rise in domestic violence any time the temperatures are extremely high or extremely low.
“Large amounts of snow and extended times of being unable to get away causes individuals’ patience to wear thin. Often time kids are out of school and everyone is thrown together. Tempers can tend to flare in these situations and domestic disputes increase as a result."
Washington County Sheriff Zach Jacobsen also reports an increase in domestic disturbances in the winter months. He notes it is especially higher around the holidays.
The good news is that with February being a short month, spring is now less than 50 days from arrival on March 20.
WebMD says that cabin fever (winter blues or winter malaise) is a condition that doesn’t get much respect, or formal attention, from some healthcare professionals.
Dr. Reshma Eugene, M.D., is a family practice physician who works for BJC at Parkland Health Center in Bonne Terre. Dr. Eugene just moved to the area in December and is originally from Toronto, Canada.
Dr. Eugene stated that “cabin fever” is really a misnomer and is not a true medical diagnoses. She explains that what people are usually referring to is actually called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, which is a true medical diagnoses.
“SAD affects about 5 percent of the U.S. population,” the physician explained. “It usually occurs in the fall and winter months and will improve during the spring and summer, but the worst part of the year for symptoms are usually January and February.”
Dr. Eugene said SAD is caused by changes in our circadian rhythm (biological clock) due to changes in the amount of daylight hours and other factors such as family history that may pre-dispose you to depression. It can affect women more than men, and usually starts between the ages of 18-30.
Symptoms of SAD can be feeling sad or down, loss of interest in doing activities that were previously enjoyable, change in sleep pattern, increased appetite and craving more carbohydrates, difficulty concentrating, and sometimes even thoughts of suicide.
If individuals experience these symptoms they should talk to their doctor. Dr. Eugene says treatment for SAD can include light therapy, medication or cognitive behavioral therapy.
The big question is can a person avoid catching ‘cabin fever’ or SAD? Dr. Eugene says that SAD is not really something that can be prevented.
While there is nothing to prevent SAD, there are some things that can be done to ease symptoms during winter months.
Dr. Eugene says self-care is always important including getting enough exercise, at least 150 minutes per week of aerobic exercise for adults; eating a healthy diet including fruits, vegetables and whole grains; managing stress in healthy ways and spending as much time outdoors as possible.
If someone is feeling severe depression or suicidal thoughts, they should go to the nearest emergency room or contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.