Unless you live in a very moderate climate, you probably associate winter with the ‘blues.’ Scientists have even coined a term for this malady; it’s called SAD, short for seasonal affective disorder, and primarily due to shorter days giving us less light. It affects millions of people each year, especially women. Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include these.
- feeling sad most days.
- sleeping too much or too little.
- losing interest in what usually interests you.
- negative thoughts about yourself.
If you are a church leader, how might SAD affect your leadership?
- You may more easily become discouraged in your ministry.
- Fatigue may dampen your creativity.
- Your motivation to serve and lead may decrease.
- You may more easily dwell on negative comments you hear from others in your church.
As leaders, should we fear winter? Are the effects of the winter blues inevitable? Should we expect our churches and our leadership to suffer come winter?
I don’t think so, if we stay proactive when winter arrives. I’ve suggested below what I call the ABCs of battling the winter blues.
A: Acknowledge it.
The winter blues are real. You are not imagining it and the devil is not causing it, although he can use it against us. SAD is a biochemical issue more intense for some than others. These factors contribute to SAD1:
- Levels of the sleep hormone, melatonin, remaining high into the morning.
- A shift in our sleep-wake cycle called the circadian rhythm.
- A decrease in brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, specifically serotonin which affects our overall mood and dopamine which influences learning and pleasure.
B: Buy a light box.
Light boxes that simulate sunlight have proven effective for about eighty-five percent of people with the winter blues. Thirty to sixty minutes of light therapy can help after only two weeks of regular use. You can even use a light box while reading or watching TV. Most light boxes cost under $300.
C: Consider mindfulness. Mindfulness relates to being aware moment-by-moment of your internal and external experiences. For a Christian, this practices finds its roots in the Christian Desert Fathers who contemplated God and His Word in the third through the fifth centuries. Researches have discovered that mindfulness benefits us in many ways.
- decreased depression and anxiety
- improved overall mood
- less negative thinking
- better control of emotions
- improved creativity
- enhanced sleep quality
- stronger immune systems
D: Don’t cocoon.
It’s natural when we feel depressed to want to pull away from others. But staying in community through small groups, church attendance, and service with others actually helps our brain chemistry stay balanced. So in winter, do lots of social things. And, bundle up and get out. I once heard someone say that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.
E: Encourage your team.
Since your fellow volunteers and/or staff face the winter blues as well, model encouragement. People will ‘catch’ your mood. It’s called emotional contagion. If you bring a positive attitude to church and to your meetings, it will rub off on those around you and help them resist the effects of the winter blues.
F: Finally, consider medication if needed.
Research indicates that SAD results in a decrease in the the mood neurotransmitter in our brain, serotonin. If you’d tried A–E and still aren’t getting relief, you may be a good candidate for something called an SSRI, a class of drugs that regulates the effect of your brain’s serotonin, and thus your mood. A wise doctor can help you discern if you need it.
Winter is here. I live in Canada and it gets COLD and SNOWY. Sometimes it’s easy for me to whine about the weather and give in to the winter blues, yet I’m learning that when I apply these ABCs, despite less daylight, winter becomes another opportunity to joyfully serve God and His people.
Dr. Charles Stone is the author of Brain Savvy Leaders: The Science of Significant Ministry. He has served as a senior pastor, a teaching pastor, an associate pastor, and a church planter in his thirty-four years of ministry in the U.S. and Canada. He currently serves as Lead Pastor at West Park Church in London, Ontario. The most recent of his four earned degrees is an executive masters in the neuroscience of leadership. Learn more at his website, www.charlesstone.com.
1Robert D. Levitan, “The Chronobiology and Neurobiology of Winter Seasonal Affective Disorder,” Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience 9, no. 3 (September 2007): 315–24.