This time of year many of us feel acutely aware of just how short our days have become. Waking up in the morning is more of a challenge, and leaving the office to pitch black skies each night makes some of us just feel ‘off’. Sensitivity to light deprivation and colder temperatures varies greatly from person to person, but in all cases it takes some adjusting to. As we roll into the last 6 weeks of autumn, we thought we’d shed some light on the subject and share some tips on how to stay upbeat and productive this winter, regardless of what Mother Nature has in store.
Darkness Makes Us Want To Hibernate. Expert in SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and Harvard psychiatrist Jacqueline Olds explains that in darker climates the brain tends to feel as though it’s jet-lagged. People don’t get the bright-light cues they’d normally get from going outdoors that set their circadian rhythm. And when this is out of whack, it makes us feel sluggish, as though our bodies want us to hibernate – literally. Olds explains that in these situations people crave more sleep and more food, and they’re less likely to be social and do all of the things that would make them feel better. Consecutive dark days affect the vast majority of us at some level.
Studies reveal that SAD affects anywhere from 0 to 9.7% of the world population (depending on region) and a lighter version of it, known as ‘the winter blues’, affects a broader group. It’s interesting to acknowledge why we may be feeling lethargic and a bit less motivated during certain times of year; however, it’s also important not to dwell on things we can’t control – like the weather – and to be proactive in doing whatever we can to embrace each season and to continue living happy, productive and kickass lives.
5 Tips To Embrace The Grey:
1/ Brighten Your Environment. Force yourself to get up earlier and take advantage of daylight as much as possible. When you’re inside, be sure to be near a window and to open the blinds and curtains as much as possible to brighten your living and working spaces. If your home or office is dark, hang artwork that is light or brightly colored and uplifts the ambience.
2/ Get Outside (Almost No Matter What). Even when the sky is dark and/or it’s terribly cold, make a genuine effort to get out the door. Bundle up like crazy if you need to, and obviously exercise caution when it comes to dangerous weather, but reaaaally try and motivate yourself out the door. Even short doses of time outside have been shown to lift our mood, improve our ability to focus and help us come to life.
3/ Plan Activities (A Lot). It’s natural that when you’re light-deprived and your body is leaning toward hibernation-mode, you’d rather crawl under the covers than meet up with friends, schedule a date night, or get your butt to the gym. However, as the Nike slogan goes: Just Do It. You may need a little more rest if you’re feeling very affected by the weather, however don’t use this as an excuse to decline invitations and constantly cancel. Schedule your calendar with fun activities to stay social and active when the weather is getting you down. Worst case: invite friends over before a snowstorm and schedule a fun night in together. If you have kids, invite other friends (and other friends with their kids) over. Enjoy the moment and just laugh or commiserate if you need to – above all, don’t allow yourself to isolate for too long. Get concert tickets, make dinner reservations and mingle and meet new people — this all keeps you feeling fresh and engaged in life. A little bit of effort returns a whole lot of happiness.
4/ Remember Our Days Begin Getting Longer On December 22nd. One thing that may boost your state of mind is to remember that despite the cold and/or dark weather in the upcoming months, our hours of daylight gradually begin to increase just after the Winter Solstice on December 21st (the shortest day of the year for those in the Northern Hemisphere). So, from this day forward for the next 6 months, every day we have just a little bit more light.
5/ Restore, Reflect And Indulge. You do need to get out there and push yourself to be social and fight the winter doldrums. However, dark skies and colder temperatures also provide moments of calm that are unique to this time of year. It’s an ideal time for self-reflection. Consider the progress you’ve made over the past year with regard to your personal goals, the challenges you’ve confronted, and how you might shift things to work more in your favor. The close of a year and the start of a new one may inspire you to taking better care of yourself and to make positive changes that will make your new year ahead exceptional. Keeping a journal can be very therapeutic and useful, as is sharing your reflections with a close friend.
* Song to get you in the mood: “Refuge” by John Legend. (a perfect love song for ‘when it’s cold outside’)
From the 2004 album “Get Lifted”.
Sources & Related Links:
“Shelter For The Psyche”, Harvard Gazette article: http://goo.gl/gsq3BB
“Surprising Ways The Weather Affects Your Health And Well-being”, Huffington Post article: http://goo.gl/wJ7SRs
“Winter Blues: Tired, Grumpy And Always Hungry”, article: http://goo.gl/pPI7SY
“Seasonal Affective Disorder”, article: http://goo.gl/kv5Kph