Turn Your Brain’s Winter Blues into Yellows

Horse back riders near Sandspit beach at Montana De Oro State Park, CA

Horseback riders near Sandspit Beach at Montana De Oro State Park, CA

 

In the winter of 1998, I fell in love– with a place, California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) in San Luis Obispo (SLO).   Although I was impressed by the stellar academic programs and the incredible REC center, it was the sunshine that won me over.  The unpolluted blue sky and lush green hills beckoned me to stay longer than my scheduled two-day visit, but, sadly, I had to leave and return to my college classes amid the dirty melting snow and grey skies of northwest Indiana.  Luckily, I didn’t stay in Indiana for long.  I returned to lovely SLO County one year later, graduated from Cal Poly, and have remained for over fifteen years (minus a few weeks every year for vacations).

As a California native, never having lived farther than twenty minutes from a sunny west coast beach, it was a climate shock to my system when I experienced an Indiana winter.  I had never heard terms such as “lake effect snow”, had never driven a car on an icy and snowy road, and definitely had never made a fool of myself slipping on ice trying to get to class.  These were all “fun” firsts I experienced during my freshman winter at Valparaiso University (Valpo).  I ended up staying through two winters at Valpo. The first winter I did ok.

The second winter was tough.

When the sun stayed away longer, the skies grew greyer, and the winter cold set it, I found myself hibernating in my dorm room.  My friend, Laura, who lived a few doors down, knew not to disturb me, the grumpy girl, during my habitual nap time.  I did not have the energy to keep up with my frigid surroundings. To cope with the winter blues, I loaded up on my favorite greasy-cheesy comfort foods, like macaroni and cheese, gained weight, developed acne, and slept a ton. I felt like a mess and longed for the sunny skies over SLO.

Summer breaks in southern California were spent soaking up the sun in my parents’ backyard.  Once home, and after a few weeks of “light therapy” while enjoying the outdoors, I felt energized, ate better, and exercised.  Now when I look back, it makes me realize that Indiana’s winters brought on SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder or recurrent winter depression).

I am so thankful to live in SLO County, where the weather is perfect for individuals with SAD.  Although dreary grey days exist, it is a land blessed with microclimates.  That means it might be 60 degrees and foggy at the coast in the summer, but a 20-minute drive to the north-east will take you to a brilliant 90 degrees in places like Atascadero or Templeton.  Or in January, due to a warm streak, it might be sunny and hover around 80 degrees right at the coast, with north county temperatures in the 60s.   John Lindsey, a SLO meteorologist, does a good job describing this phenomenon in his article, SLO County’s battling microclimates.

My brain rests assured that in the event of a foggy or grey day in SLO County, I can drive a few miles and experience a change in the weather, or stay at home, content, to gaze at my yellow walls.

Had I read Leatrice Eiseman’s book earlier, Colors for Your Every Mood, and been allowed to paint my Indiana dorm room walls yellow, my life may have turned out quite differently.  On page 46 of her book, she mentions that the color yellow may help with SAD syndrome:

It would be an excellent hue to use in alleviating the depression of the seasonal affective disorder (SAD syndrome). For those who literally suffer through the dismal days of winter, what could be better than painting the walls with sunshine where it doesn’t exist. It’s Prozac in a paint can (and a lot less expensive)!”

Eiseman, Leatrice. (1998) Colors for Your Every Mood. colorexpert.com

Sometimes I read books that are not specifically about the brain, but in the end (at least for me) I find a brain connection.  That’s what happened with Colors for Your Every Mood. I was expecting a book about decorating tips, which it does include, but it also informs the reader about many fascinating psychological insights in regards to color choice. I learned how colors have been used historically, the traditions associated with them, and other interesting tidbits like avoiding orange and red in the kitchen because they are thought to stimulate your appetite.  Check out her book if you want help bringing out certain moods in each room of your home, office, or school.

Also, if you’d like more references or an overview of SAD, I suggest checking out the article, Seasonal Affective Disorder, from the The British Journal of Psychiatry.  It cites another article with the full text available online, Pathophysiology of seasonal affective disorder: a review, that goes into more depth about light therapy and the role of neurotransmitters.

To all my friends that I met at Valpo: it was an experience I would not trade, and I cherish the spring and fall memories. I’m just biased about living in California during the winter months.

While I do enjoy yellow, my favorite color is actually blue–it is thought to evoke calmness and healing.  What’s your brain’s favorite color?

By: Tina Davidson

Morro Bay Rock, CA Historical Landmark No. 821

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