Have you ever suffered from the seasonal blues? You likely were dealing with seasonal affective disorder. The Mayo Clinic defines seasonal affective disorder (SAD) as “a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons—seasonal affective disorder  begins and ends at about the same times every year.”1
We all know how dreary and cold the Minnesota winters can be. They start early in the fall and seem to end late in the spring. The sun tends to hide behind the dark clouds, and we find darkness creeping in during the early evening.
Could the symptoms of the winter blues be something more? The Mayo Clinic lists symptoms of fall and winter SAD, which include “feeling listless, sad or down most of the day, nearly every day; losing interest in activities you once enjoyed; having low energy and feeling sluggish; having problems with sleeping too much; experiencing carbohydrate cravings, overeating and weight gain; having difficulty concentrating; feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty; having thoughts of not wanting to live.”2
The Mayo Clinic further lists symptoms of spring and summer SAD, which include “trouble sleeping; poor appetite; weight loss; agitation or anxiety; increased irritability.”3
How can SAD affect our practice?
SAD affects our moods and can leave us feeling hopeless, listless, and unmotivated to work or to complete the daily tasks on our to-do lists. Despite the change in seasons, our lists of reports, motions, briefs, and other work keep growing.
If our mindset prevents us from being able to fully focus on our work, that can affect our work product and the ability to fully and properly represent our clients. Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 1.1 states “a lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.”
SAD can affect an attorney’s ability to be thorough in representation, or to prepare reasonably for the representation, in ways we may not even realize.
What improves SAD?
In a word, sunshine.
Sunshine is underrated in the numerous benefits that it can bring to the mind and body. According to a Forbes article on the benefits of sunlight, “it elevates mood; it improves sleep; it promotes bone growth; it helps strengthen the immune system; it lowers blood pressure; it may reduce the risk of melanoma; it promotes weight loss.”4 Try to get as much sunlight as possible by going outside or sitting in the sunlight in front of a window.
Despite sunshine’s being a mood elevator, there are many days during the winter months when it’s hard to get adequate sunshine—the weather is often coldest on sunny days in winter, and the sun frequently vanishes for many days at a time.
Light therapy is another way to improve SAD-related mood problems. In the words of the UK National Health Service, light therapy “involves sitting by a special lamp called a light box, usually for around 30 minutes to an hour each morning.”5 Light therapy lamps can be found on Amazon or various stores online. It is said that the “light produced by the light box simulates the sunlight that’s missing during the darker winter months.”6
The Mayo Clinic also identifies some self-care methods we can use to help fight effects of SAD: “[M]ake your environment sunnier and brighter, get outside, exercise regularly, and normalize sleep patterns.”7
Many individuals may suffer from the winter blues yet fail to recognize the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. If you think you may be one, try taking advantage of some of these methods for combating the effects of seasonal affective disorder and to abide by the ethical rules of our practice.
My views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the view and position of State Farm and they are given in my individual capacity.
Sheina Long is a licensed attorney practicing in Minnesota and Wisconsin who also holds active licenses in Missouri and Illinois. She is currently based in St. Paul, Minnesota, working within the Claim Litigation Counsel Section of the Law Department of State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company.