Not scared of the dark, just fed up with it?
Many of us find that heading out to work in the dark, only to return home when it’s already dark has an effect, and it’s not a positive one. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is now often considered as a spectrum of behavioural and emotional problems connected to the seasons, with us all sitting somewhere between those not affected at all to those who experience severe and debilitating symptoms.
Global warming aside, we can’t change our seasons, but there are some actions we can take which might help our mood and energy levels throughout another long British winter.
Some of the more common suggestions
Sunlight – try to maximise the light coming in through your windows. At home, trim any hedges or climbers which may be reducing light getting through and keep the windows clean, while at work check a window cleaner still calls during the winter months and draw blinds if possible.
Diet – try to keep it healthy and stick to seasonal fruit and vegetables. Keep in mind that although you may be craving pure sugars and starch, they only provide a temporary boost by releasing insulin which causes a drop in your blood sugar leading to further cravings and the start of a vicious circle.
Exercise – it’s constantly drummed home how important exercise is to our wellbeing and although it may take us more geeing up than it would on a warm, sunny day, getting outside during the daylight hours for a walk, jog or run can make a difference.
Relaxation – don’t be tempted to try and get as much done within the reduced hours of light as you would during days with longer daylight hours. During the dark winter evenings, focus on whatever self-care activities you find work for you to help you relax, or try something new e.g. breathing exercises, yoga, mindfulness techniques.
Socialise – although it may be tempting to get home, draw the curtains and close the front door for the night, talking to friends and family and sharing how you feel can often help you realise you’re not alone. And a good catch up often includes laughter which is another good antidote. It doesn’t have to be face-to-face meet ups, phone or digital catch ups can be helpful.
Sleep – the lack of sunlight over the winter months causes our brains to produce more of the melatonin hormone which makes us sleepy. However, we don’t need any more sleep in the winter than during the other seasons so try to keep your regular sleep habits and hygiene (a regular bedtime, no digital devices in the bedroom or before bed, a regulated room temperature, bedding suitable for the season etc.). Focus on self-care and relaxation rather than being tempted to hibernate.
Talking to others – if you find your symptoms are causing severe unhappiness and/or major disruption to your work or personal life, make an appointment to see your GP.
Some less well known ideas
Celebrate the winter solstice – this year it falls on Friday 21 December and from this date onwards we can look forward to an extra 2 minutes of sunlight each day. Seems like a small amount daily but when you consider there is a difference of almost 9 hours of sunlight between the shortest day in December and the longest day in June, it helps some people to mark the winter solstice and lifts them to know that from this date the days will only get longer.
Mirrors – the industrial town of Rjukan in Southern Norway lies in a deep valley and is without the sun for almost 6 months of the year. In 2013, a hundred years after the town’s founder initially floated the idea, 3 ‘solspeil’, or sun mirrors, were installed about 450 metres above the town square. Each of these heliostats tracks the sun, capturing sunlight and sending it down to the market square below, providing the town’s inhabitants with a boost to the otherwise dwindling sunlight they experience as the seasons change.
Light rooms – Sweden was an early adopter of light therapy and light rooms are still available there today. In addition to the warmth and light, often all the furniture and furnishings in the room are white with some clinics going further and providing the patients with all white clothing. Some people find early morning sessions for a couple of hours over an initial period of 2 weeks beneficial.