Trouble Coping with Days of Darkness?Print
Here are a few tips to make life a little brighter…
Call me crazy, but while all my late-night party friends are celebrating a win for that extra hour, I’m bemoaning the loss of daylight—at least in the late afternoon when I seem to want it the most. For most of us, there is a real and present feeling of loss that accompanies extra-hours darkness. And it seems to be the consensus—at least among individuals who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD)—that less sunlight causes depression.
- Get your sunlight in the morning: According to Alfred Lewy, MD, a seasonal-affective-disorder researcher at the Oregon Health & Science University, "The most important time to get light is in the morning"1 when your circadian rhythms can be reset. When you wake up in the early morning, it’s your instinct to keep sleeping through the darkness. When we get a dose of sunlight, however, our circadian clock resets and knows it’s time to get up.
- Rest more: Winter blues come with or without a lack of sunlight. Depressing but true, most suicides happen in the spring and summer months, not the winter! But winter used to be a time of limited activity for which we may still be predisposed. In our million-year history as humans, there’s less work to be done in the winter. Back when we were hunters and gatherers, there was less hunting and gathering with the onset of frozen snow-covered ground and animal hibernation. This meant that whole tribes would hunker down from late December to March, subsisting off the foods they had squirreled away all summer and fall. In fact, in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, he discusses that almost all the accounts of hard labor from the Middle Ages were written between early spring and late fall. In the winter months, there was virtually no activity.2 This would also explain why contemporary cultures in and around the Arctic Circle don’t experience seasonal affective disorder. They are more in tune with nature and respond accordingly, whereas typical Western culture is to keep working in offices during these cold, dark months. That’s not to say do nothing! Staying active is still of vital importance. But getting a little extra rest and down time might be good for the soul.
- Make your daylight hours count: Depending on what part of the northern hemisphere you reside, you could have anywhere from 10 hours of daylight (in Florida or North Africa), to 9 hours (in New York City) or as little as 4.5 hours (in northern Canada, Norway or Alaska). Whatever you’ve got, the quality of those hours needs to count. Exercise, reading, getting together with friends, seeing value in your work and participating in meaningful activities have all been shown to improve mood. In Norway, in fact, Norwegians really enjoy the dark season, and the rate of seasonal affective disorder is very low.3 You would think that it would be higher with less light, but it’s not. That leads many researchers to believe that SAD might best be controlled by perception, attitude and preparedness.
- Get fresh air: Fresh air is a known healer. We indoor people hate to hear it, but fresh air has a gazillion benefits. According to an article in the Cleveland Examiner, fresh air in winter helps to “strengthen your heart… balances hormones, promotes weight loss, helps reset circadian rhythms… helps to destress… and improves overall mood.”4
- Take the right supplements: Vitamins A, B6, B12, D3 and omega-3s (EPA and DHA) have all been shown to elevate mood. Omega-3s in particular are extremely popular in Arctic countries like Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland, where fish and fish oil is taken daily through the dark months to help fight depression.
Dealing with less light is a challenge, but it’s not impossible to manage. And remember, after December 21st (the shortest day of the year) the days grow longer. If that isn’t good enough, there’s always a quick trip to Cancun!