Seasons aren't causing our depression, capitalism is. Let's reimagine solutions.
'Seasonal Affective Disorder' or humans forced to work & unable to adapt to nature?
As the temperature begins to drop, large-scale shifts occur in nature. Red, orange, yellow autumn leaves wither & trickle to the ground, gently signaling the coming of winter. Plants, animals, & microbes flow in harmony with and adapt to seasonal transitions. All living beings (except humans) synchronize with nature's rhythms & cycles to thrive and change their bodies & behaviors in response to their evolving environment to survive. Meanwhile, most humans are forced to work and adhere to rigid, monotonous, regimented, repetitive, fast-paced routines regardless of what occurs in our environment or personal lives. How is our health impacted by these seasonal transitions? Can we cope communally like animals, plants & microbes do?
Today’s newsletter will cover:
Looking to the woods: Lessons from animals & plants on adapting to seasons
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)- Aka capitalism hurting our health by preventing us from adapting to nature’s changing rhythms
The SAD Industry- These expensive sun lamps won’t save us but community might
Reimagining solutions to seasonal health issues thru an ecological lens
FOR PAID SUBSCRIBERS ~ Some things I did, watched or read recently that made me feel better + personal side notes
Winter is here for much of the Northern Hemisphere & you may be feeling sadder, heavier, “under the weather”, sicker, more fatigued, have a tougher time rolling out of bed, or see an exacerbation of pre-existing health issues including worsening pain, inflammation, infections etc. A trending, popular diagnosis on the rise is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which pathologizes seasonal depression/ anxiety. SAD is just insidious attempt by colonial mental health systems to blame individuals AND nature for health issues stemming from these systems as they continue to capitalize on our pain. Our seasonal health issues are the end result of systems severing & separating humans from nature. So beyond being sad, I want us to be MAD & imaginative.
Quick aside- You can now sign up for December’s virtual Heal in Community session that is thematically paired with this newsletter!
Animal & plant adaptations- autumn equinox to winter solstice
Plants, animals & microbes have biological circadian rhythm systems that monitor environmental stimuli like light or temperature and respond accordingly. Dormancy— During fall, deciduous trees sense the shortening of days and begin to shed their leaves, that normally photosynthesize, to conserve energy & water. Conifers grow a thick, waxy leaf coating for the winter. Similarly, to adapt to colder days, some animals like rabbits & white-tailed deer grow thicker coats for insulation. Some hunt, forage and stockpile food & resources to fortify their shelter. Bears spend most of fall eating lots & drinking water to fatten up so they can hibernate thru food-scarce winters and channel energy to keep warm.
Migration— Some birds sense the decreasing sunlight as a signal to migrate to warmer tropics in the South, returning in spring when there is plenty of food again. The Arctic tern nests near the North Pole in the summer but flies all the way to Antarctica in the autumn using Earth’s magnetic fields for navigation. Hummingbirds & Monarch butterflies in North America make their way down to Mexico for the winter while other animals merely migrate to a lower, warmer altitude on their home mountain. Japanese Beetles or Earthworms burrow deeper into the ground, inching closer to the Earth’s hot mantle for warmth. Some animals transition their diets like red foxes, who primarily eat fruits in the spring, eat more small rodents in the winter due to the lack of vegetation. Squirrels & mice live even more communally, huddling close together to keep each other warm.
Hibernation— Some animals adapt to seasonal shifts by drastically lowering their body temperature, heart rate & breathing rate to slow internal physiological & metabolic processes which conserves enough energy for them to survive long winters without eating. Some animals like bears, skunks, lemurs & squirrels take naps for days/ weeks and awaken on warmer days to seek out food before returning to slumber again. Others like snakes, bats, groundhogs & bumblebees enter a deep winter-long slumber for months. Frogs & turtles stay dormant underwater since cold water has enough oxygen for them to breathe while warm water doesn’t. Many microbes also hibernate & slow down metabolic processes when temperatures drop to enter dormancy while others use flagella to migrate towards more favorable temperatures within their ecological niche.
ADAPTATION, DORMANCY, HIBERNATION, MIGRATION, COLLECTIVISM- all complex & critical survival strategies for approximately 11.3 million beings on Earth.
All life forms co-regulate, cooperate and collectively adapt by modulating their behavior & physiological processes in response to shifting environmental stimuli. The seasons themselves are a result of celestial bodies synergizing in space creating an intricate, complex dance influenced by each other’s gravitational forces like our home planet revolving at an angle around our home star which give us equinoxes and solstices. Humans are animals. We are part of nature. Capitalism (21st century colonialism) forcefully separating us from nature & each other undeniably takes a severe toll on our individual & collective health.
Seasons aren’t hurting us, capitalism is by preventing us from adapting to seasonal shifts & severing us from nature itself
As plants, microbes & non-human animals are preparing, priming & gearing up for the winter, humans continue to toil away at work. As non-human animals adapt to environmental stressors, many humans continue to overdeliver to meet their institution, company or job’s performance or productivity goals. We’re told to work thru our pain and separate our ‘work life’ from our ‘personal life’ by pretending our communal or personal crises, health issues, or stressors don’t exist. As all other beings drastically shift their behaviors to adapt to winter, humans continue to multi-task without slowing down to step away from capitalism’s hyper-accelerated pace (a fabricated pace dictated by the constant greed of the rich).
The concept of ‘work hard, play hard’ is glorified instead of ‘work less, play & rest more’. It may be a shocking realization but we are, in fact, animals with basic physiological needs and when society is designed to fail to meet those needs, there are consequences. Our bodies must adapt to environmental shifts constantly by detecting & responding to stimuli to guide our behaviors. Instead, capitalism sets our schedule and shape our lives around made-up concepts like the workplace or career goals in the long-term. We do have biological clocks like circadian rhythms & environmental clocks like the sun but we’re socialized to ignore them. Time the way it is currently structured is a capitalist/ colonial construct. The 9-5 grind & daylight savings are not laws of nature like the rising & falling of the sun & the oceans.
Capitalist mental health systems created psychiatric diagnoses including “Seasonal Affective Disorder” for a reason
Fall & winter are riddled with chatter about ‘seasonal depression’. This winter-bashing speaks to a very real crisis of worsening emotional & physical distress we feel when the days get colder & shorter. I always float in the ether of depression so the seasons don’t dramatically alter my reality but even so, I feel sicker, more fatigued/ depleted/ drained/ foggy, cry & ache more, move & think slower, and my soul feels heavier. Western, colonial mental health systems have yet again found a way to pathologize our logical responses to oppression. A psychiatric diagnosis like SAD is a ploy to individualize systemic problems. It’s critical for us to understand the nuanced implications of such reductive bioessentialism. Capitalist healthcare systems frame our ‘symptoms’ in a vacuum & delude us to believe that the cause of our sickness is an internal, biological defect which prevents us from recognizing the real causes of our pain. This brainwashing is why we spend so much effort trying to fix ourselves and seek products that will let us conform better to rotten systems.
While capitalism prevents us from hibernating to adapt effectively to seasonal shifts, made-up borders of nation states prevent us from migrating. Besides animals, nomadic tribes for eons have adapted to environmental shifts via migration. However, borders cut across ecosystems and homogenize diverse, distinct communities while dividing similar communities across lines drawn on maps by colonizers. Are there any other observations you’ve made paralleling how our non-human cousins adapt to seasonal shifts?
I’m not sad because of winter, I’m sad because I’m not allowed to hibernate, migrate or adapt in any capacity
I’m not sad because the days are shorter- I’m sad because I cannot adapt to the shortening days. Like most people, I have a job that requires me to work indoors during all hours of sunlight. The long nights are not dreadful on their own. Except, it is dark when I leave my home for work and I am still engulfed in darkness when I leave work exhausted. 5 out of 7 days of the week, I cannot reasonably get much exposure to the sun- our solar system’s life giving, energy providing, regenerative star. On weekends, I am burnt out and too tired to reasonably compensate for such extensive physiological trauma.
I’m sad because I cannot choose to rest as I need to conserve energy. Our bodies are always running on fumes. I can’t truly listen to my body or nature’s rhythms or to my community and decide what to do once I wake up. I’ve spent most my life in classrooms, at work, in traffic or waiting in lines for state-assigned chores. My body & soul are sad because they bore the brunt of existing in a colonial/ capitalist society since the day I was born. Societal infrastructure (from public spaces to our daily schedules) actively prevents us from spending time in community and cultivating relationships with other people or non-human kin in our local ecosystems. I’m mad because I’ve been ripped from my native land & my roots ache for home. I have to earn the right to live & cannot reach into my soil to find food to sustain my community but have to buy every survival necessity as a product on an arbitrary market controlled by the rich. So damn right I’m sad.
Winter is not driving my depression. The Earth tilt & lopsided orbit around the sun are not destroying my health. But capitalism preventing me from connecting with my community is. I’m unable to feel bountiful sun-rays on my skin or seek comfort in community or breathe unpolluted O2 from my plant kin. Night time has become associated with severe fatigue, depletion & isolation and this mere association is now sufficient for it to worsen my chronic pain as all my health issues flare up.
The SAD industry promising sad cures for our complex sadness
Since we cannot simply quit their jobs when winter comes or even take time off whenever our bodies truly need it, we may start to seek tips, tricks, pills, fast remedies, any product that can be bought on the market depending on what we can afford. Himalayan salt lamps, LED lights, SAD sun lamps, workout regimens, strict diets, over-the-counter supplements & vitamins, aromatherapy, special heating systems, tools to boost productivity, self-care regimens, products, and more products— all to respond to our bodies telling us that we need to slow down, transition & adapt.
Psychiatry plays a big role in creating demand for products by fabricating new disorders to birth new profitable industries. Most famously, the “chemical imbalance” myth (now scientifically disproven) was fabricated by corporations who discovered molecules that happened to indirectly increase serotonin levels, among many other effects they have. The myth that depression occurs due to low serotonin levels was strategically created to sell drugs that came to be branded as “anti-depressants”.
Similarly, other corporations discovered & randomly tested the effects of a new molecule on many populations and eventually found that it “mellowed” kids who were labeled as “hyper-active”. This molecule, by chance, was found to indirectly increase levels of 1 neurotransmitter besides having many other detrimental effects. This is why pharmaceutical corporations widely marketed the “dopamine deficiency” myth labeling dopamine as the key to happiness, motivation, focus, productivity, & ‘success’ despite the lack of scientific evidence. The diagnostic criteria for ADHD (especially the expansion from children to adults) in the DSMV was created with performance & productivity metrics in school and work as a primary focus to promote sale of stimulants. The goal was always profit.
You can predict where I’m going with this— the SAD diagnostic label was also created to capitalize on our sadness, depression, & distress under capitalism. By blaming seasons & fabricating a biologically-based disorder triggered mysteriously by said seasons (despite the fact that there is no scientific evidence that supports the biological basis of ANY psychiatric diagnosis till this day), capitalism creates a new category of consumers— those diagnosed with SAD and/or anyone who thinks they are afflicted by seasonal depression. A slew of products can now be marketed by exploiting the plight of consumers searching for easy, fast fixes. Furthermore, the most effective way that capitalism ensures its own longevity is by shielding itself of any accountability & redirecting blame. We blame ourselves or each other for our distress.
Sadly, when we’re socialized under capitalism our whole life, it can be difficult to know who we are outside of being consumers. People shape their entire identities based on the products they consume, their accumulated wealth & the materials they “own”. When we are deprived of agency our whole lives, we are deprived of a real chance to intentionally explore infinite possible ways of being. As consumers or workers we take on the values of the empire that coerced & manipulated us. When we are sad, we may self-punish & withhold or over-indulge in some form of consumption. We may prefer solutions that can be BOUGHT because that is all we’ve ever known— but we can delve beyond these cages.
EXERCISE: Reimagine ecological, anti-capitalist, human adaptations to seasons
Our health is intimately tied to the health of our ecosystem and all the plants, animals, & microbe kin living within it. What if we truly saw ourselves as a part of nature & not superior to other organisms? Would we learn from the woods instead of just using them to boost our ‘productivity’? What if we honored the intergenerational tools of healing passed down by our ancestors, developed over centuries, as a form of love that transcends time & space? Would naming capitalism & the state as the culprit, not seasons, change your approach to healing? What if we identified the arenas of our life where we do have more agency to pushback on capitalism & be the fluid beings we’re meant to be? Beyond doing what is needed to put food on the table & pay rent, can we cooperate more with each other as we collectively adapt to cosmic shifts & synergize with ecological rhythms?
We’re meant to be enveloped, encased & wrapped in nature’s cocoon constantly interacting & enmeshed with natural elements land, water, or other living beings. When I look to the woods to learn from my fellow plant, animal or microbe kin, I start to find more answers to my plight or at least, I begin to have hope. I stop blaming myself & try to slow down when I can. We are inter-dependent organisms. When I embody this ecological collectivism, I dream big. I imagine & dig into how our communities synchronized with the ebbs & flow of nature outside of capitalism & for eons before colonialism. I also realize we still do this in many ways by practicing our cultural traditions despite capitalism.
So if you were a bear, a soil bacteria, a groundhog, a bat, a fungal organism encased in a supportive mycelial network, a conifer part of a connected root system, or just water resiliently flowing & cutting through the most dense rock formations- how would you adapt to shifting seasons? If you could do anything in the fall or winter, how would you do things differently in your day & in your relationships? How much of this can you do today if you were critical about the things you’ve told yourself you MUST do to stick to a routine or pattern? If there is nothing wrong with your mood/ emotional shifts in the winter, how could you move thru them differently or communally with more compassion & softness for yourself & those you are intimately connected to? Could you seek out more community to huddle close to? Could you slow down at work & under-deliver even for a change? Could you sleep in or change up what time of the day you get things done? Could you have more boundaries with your workplace & assert your needs better? Could you spend time cooking communally, re-connecting with ancestral traditions or devise rituals that resonate with nature?