14 May 2011

Three surprising things that mess up my mood

by Nia

After spending two hours in a seminar last week trying to get the techie speaker on the right to come into focus, I was distracted and cranky and angry at myself for putting off my eye exam for so long. Which reminded me of all the unexpected things that can still make my mood take a nosedive.

The wrong contact lens prescription. I once spent about a week in lenses that were, say, five percent too weak and became increasingly unsettled until one night at a pub I discovered I was almost despairing at not being able to see the other pub-goers' faces clearly.

I've met plenty of people whose eyesight, corrected or not, is worse than mine, so maybe it's not the exact 20/20 that's important but that the prescription is what you're accustomed to.

Watching television. I stopped watching TV in college, because most of it sucked and the moronic commercials drove me nuts. Fifteen years later, I turned the TV on out of boredom while housesitting and felt miserable the next day. Further experiments indicated that content or time of day were not factors, and that the effect was noticeable after about 25 minutes of watching. A poll of my friends revealed two people who had similar reactions, although they reported anxiety, jitteriness and spaciness, not low mood.

Weirdly, watching the same content on DVD, even for six hours at a time, had no effect. From this I logically concluded that either the commercials themselves, or broadcast television's specific wavelengths, inject some sort of mind-control energy into our brains, which would jibe with my theories about Disney movies and Kit Kat bars. Eventually I did some more formal research, but the studies I found linking TV watching and depression focused on program content, physical inactivity, or the disruption of our circadian rhythms from the bright screen as causes. That didn't explain my DVD immunity.

I had more luck finding corroborating studies when I looked at it as a multi-tasking issue, and the commercials as repeated distractions. Perhaps my brain can only be interrupted so many times.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It took me a while to figure this out because in high school in the Midwest my mood was such a constant disaster that I couldn't discern any patterns in it -- like sticking your head in a tornado funnel that's just sucked up your subdivision and trying to spot your house -- and after graduation I went straight to Southern California. Back in the Midwest years later, I thought I'd ironed out the whole depression thing, but the first winter knocked my mood back about 50%. I also ate everything in sight, lay awake all night, and was a zombie all day. I got myself a lightbox, which back then looked like a piece of airport runway equipment, and after a week was back to normal.

A few years ago, winter here lasted about four weeks longer than usual and while the entire city went insane, I remained unaffected. And yes, I gloated.