The Winter Blues


Outside, overcast skies hide the afternoon sun.

Summer’s vibrant green and the kaleidoscopic colors of fall have long vanished, leaving only fallen leaves to sweep across a cold, barren ground. Winter in the south may be relatively short, but its colder and shorter days can still bring in the winter blues.

Seasonal depression, otherwise known as SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder),

strikes up to 6% of the U.S. population and usually occurs the same time each year. Hormones, genes, age, body temperature, and overall mental state all play a role in SAD with symptoms including depression, anxiety, loss of energy, hopelessness, social withdrawal, oversleeping, the inability to concentrate, appetite changes, weight gain, and the feeling of heaviness in arms and/or legs. As reported by the Mayo Clinic, SAD can affect children, teens, men and women, with more teens being affected than children and women being four times more likely to experience SAD than men.

Dr. J. Michael Nanney, Meridian, Miss., explained that there are two common types of Seasonal Affective Disorder, the fall onset and the summer onset, with fall being more common.

“[Symptoms of SAD] are a little bit different than we usually experience with depression,”

said Nanney. For example, during SAD episodes, people tend to sleep more and gain weight. “Also, [SAD sufferers] are more sensitive to rejection during that particular time.” Nanney added that although the cause of the winter blues is unknown, decreased amounts of natural light during the winter months might certainly be a contributing factor.

Light affects the body’s circadian rhythm (24-hour cycle internal body clock),

which also controls how much melatonin the body produces. Levels of melatonin usually begin rising in mid to late evening, remain high through most of the night, and begin dropping in the early morning hours. Winter’s shorter days can cause the body to produce melatonin earlier or later in the day, which can trigger symptoms of SAD.  With age, natural melatonin levels slowly drop and some older adults actually produce little or no melatonin. Therefore, light therapy (phototherapy) consisting of a special fluorescent lamp that emulates sunlight can be beneficial. When this therapy works, depression usually improves within 3 to 4 weeks.

In addition, changes in the brain’s serotonin levels can alter a person’s mood.

While it’s perfectly normal to feel down on some days, a prolonged period of depression that has you abstaining from normal activities should be taken seriously.  Psychotherapy and medication may be necessary to help you through this period.

Children who seem to have a poor attitude may actually be struggling with SAD.

Since other medical problems, like mononucleosis, hypothyroidism and hypoglycemia, have similar symptoms, parents should seek professional medical guidance for a careful evaluation of their child. Open discussions about SAD will help children understand the reasons for their mental and physical changes.

“Taking a walk outside will help, as well as increasing light in your home,” said Nanney.

‘Set timers on your lights so that when you wake-up, the lights are already on.” Purchasing your own light for therapy can also be helpful, Nanney explained. Costs run from 200 to 500 dollars with light intensity varying between 2,500 to 10,000 watts. Light therapy, as prescribed by a physician, can require 30 minutes to two hours a day.

Currently, there is no medical test for SAD,

so a doctor depends on the patient to be upfront about symptoms and how long they have persisted.  Other exams and tests may be required to rule out other medical disorders. While symptoms often improve with the change of seasons, SAD can develop into long-term depression. If you repeatedly experience seasonal depression, seek medical counsel to learn the best steps for prevention.

To determine if you are experiencing SAD, ask yourself these questions:

  • Have I had a change in appetite?
  • Have my sleep patterns changed?
  • Do I feel hopeless and heavy?
  • Have I lost interest in things I usually enjoy
  • Have I thought about suicide?
  • Have I become a loner?
  • Am I turning to alcohol for relaxation and comfort?

 “As with all mood disorders, [symptoms of SAD] are not character problems,” said Nanney.

“They are chemical problems. People shouldn’t feel guilty about seeking help and doing something about it.”

by Richelle Putnam

Serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine), a hormone found in the pineal gland, blood platelets, the digestive tract, and the brain, acts as a chemical messenger of nerve signals between nerve cells and also causes blood vessels to narrow.


Melatonin, a hormone made by the pineal gland in the brain, helps control sleep and wake cycles.



Is The Keyboard Mightier Than The Pen? Keep Old School in Children’s Learning

Education has gone high tech.

When I started my first teaching job, the ditto machine was my friend. The messy, purple inked contraption made it possible to spew out handouts, tests and homework assignments for my students. Technology moved from there to the mimeograph machine to the photo copier to the power point presentation. White boards have replaced black boards and technology in education has changed the way teachers prepare and teach and the way students interact and receive what is being taught. Students take notes on their laptops and tablets and in 2013, cursive writing was dropped from the Common Core Curriculum Standards that is shared by all states. Children and now required to learn to use a keyboard and print rather than the loopier cursive.

The debate has erupted about whether this is a good thing.

At first glance, the battle between keyboards and pens might seem to be a battle of resistance to change and technology is merely another tool that we’ll get used to. But researchers have studied both sides of the issue and found advantages to each.

Pens and keyboards bring into play very different cognitive processes. As a result, it helps to know what you get when you choose one or the other.

Those who support the keyboard suggest that typing is faster and students can have more information for their disposal. According to Anne Throwback, associate professor of rhetoric and composition at Oberlin College in Ohio “What we want from writing is cognitive automaticity, the ability to think as fast as possible, with whatever technology we use to record our thoughts. This is what typing does for millions.” In addition, proponents of the keyboard argue “what really matters is not how we produce a text but its quality. When we are reading, few of us wonder whether a text was written by hand or word-processed.”

In a paper published in April in the journal Psychological Science, two US researchers, Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer, claim that note-taking with a pen, rather than a laptop, gives students a better grasp of the subject. They hypothesize that handwriting requires different types of cognitive processing than typing on a laptop, and both have different consequences for learning. You can only write so fast, so your brain is forced to do more as your hand writes the crucial data. They believed writing longhand is a workout for the brain. And, because writing is slower it’s more useful in the long run. Writing involves the whole body and results in a greater amount of conceptual learning.

Using college students as guinea pigs, Mueller and Oppenheimer put their theory to the test.

They divided groups of students into keyboarders and hand writers for taking notes in class. They gave them a week to study their notes before a test. Those who wrote their notes outperformed laptop users. This suggests longhand notes may have superior external storage as well as superior encoding functions,” Mueller and Oppenheimer write.

According to Edouard Gentaz, professor of developmental psychology at the University of Geneva, “Handwriting is a complex task which requires various skills. Children take several years to master this precise motor exercise: You need to hold the scripting tool firmly while moving it in such a way as to leave a different mark for each letter.” The body remembers-making the learning long lasting. There is an element of dancing when we write by hand, a melody in the message, which adds emotion to the text.

Another study from 2010 found that the brain areas associated with learning “lit up” much more when kids were asked to write words like “spaceship” by hand versus just studying the word closely.

But does all this really change our relationship to learning?

Studies show there are additional advantages to writing some things by hand that include:

  • Handwriting stimulates more effective memory cues because you’re forming the context and content in your own words.

  • Handwriting reveals aspects of our personalities. How do you want to be seen by your grandchildren?

  • One of the most effective ways to study and retain new information is to rewrite your types notes by hand. That helps to increase performance on material on which you’ll be tested.

For me, there are many reasons to use both.

What’s A Person To Do?

  • Use pen and paper to make your brain sharper.

  • Use the keyboard to get more written material, faster.

  • Use pen and paper to become a better writers.

  • Use pen and paper to learn a new skills.

  • Use both for acquiring and reproducing materials on which to be remembered or tested.

© Dr. Rachell N. Anderson, Psy. D. June 3, 2016


Dr. Rachell Anderson is a native of Tunica, a licensed Clinical Psychologist, a Professor Emeritus and author. She taught at the University of Illinois and ran a Private Clinical Practice in Springfield, Illinois for many years. She now lives and writes with the Tunica Chapter of the Mississippi Writers Guild in Tunica, Mississippi. Check out her website at for more articles and