Our daylight hours in the Northern Hemisphere were already waning, and now we’ve just turned back the clocks. This transition is difficult for many of you, I know. Being without light is difficult for me, too. Light is, after all, a nutrient. I think we forget that most of the people on Earth lived without electricity as little as 125 years ago.
If you are one of millions who experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD), don’t let anyone tell you it’s all in your head. It’s not. It is, however, a nudge from Mother Nature that something in your life isn’t quite right.
For millennia, we honored the natural rest and restore cycle built into the year. It was once the norm to rise with the sun and sleep when it was dark. This meant sleeping more in the winter. Even the earth rested—very little grows in winter, although the trees send nourishment to the roots, so the cycle can begin again in spring. We all need to “go into darkness” at times to rejuvenate and to take stock of our lives. This is particularly true after we’ve created something significant in the outer world. I experienced this after the launch of each of my books—and did my best to honor it. You can fight this rhythm, but it may fight back!
I’ve often said that SAD is to the annual calendar what PMS is to the monthly cycle. Like PMS, if your symptoms are severe it can mean that you aren’t honoring the needs of your body or spirit. There are real physiological changes, which take place when the days grow shorter. The sleepiness that you feel has to do with your body’s production of melatonin. Light—for some, even the nightlight in the bathroom—can cause your body to stop producing melatonin. Of course the opposite is true. The more melatonin, the sleepier you will feel. Give in! Get an extra hour of sleep when you can.
You are also exposed to less sunlight and, therefore, less vitamin D. Numerous studies show that your risk for the winter blues increase if your vitamin D levels are sub-optimal. This is true of the aches and pains, which seem to come on in the cold. I strongly recommend that you watch your vitamin D levels, especially as winter continues (unless you live in a sunny climate).
The optimal level for vitamin D is 32ng/ml – 75ng/ml. Aim for 50ng/ml or higher. Nutrient your body by taking a high-quality multi-vitamin/mineral, too. And avoid sugary snacks (and garlic mashed potatoes!). I know they’re tempting, but eating them will only make you more lethargic, because they raise your blood sugar and insulin levels significantly.
Another highly effective way to combat seasonal blues is with a light box. A light box gives off full-spectrum light and extends the number of daylight hours you get. I use my light box every winter beginning in October. Light boxes are great for rainy days, too. Although they sort of look like a tanning apparatus, the idea is to enjoy the ambient light from five to ten feet away in your peripheral vision. Staring into a light box can cause eyestrain and headaches, and should be avoided.
One Simple Tip
An easy way to add more full spectrum light is by replacing your light bulbs with full spectrum light bulbs. I did this many years ago.
“Full spectrum” means they contain all the colors, including the blues, greens, and purples that florescent and incandescent bulbs don’t have. Have a care with how you dispose of any light bulb that has a spiral pattern as opposed to a smooth globe. The compact florescent bulbs have the spirals and are touted for their energy efficiency. Unfortunately, they also contain mercury! The good news is the mercury is only released if you break the bulb. Most big box hardware stores like Lowes and Home Depot are aware of this and offer a safe way to dispose of these bulbs. You just bring them to the store (unbroken).
You can also buy full spectrum light bulbs at most major hardware stores. They used to be extremely hard to find, but are now widely available. Some companies tout their products as being better quality. Since I haven’t tried them all, I can’t recommend one over another. In the past, I’ve purchased full-spectrum bulbs from the company Light for Health in Colorado, and, although more costly than those from the big box hardware stores, they have lasted for years! Dr. Joseph Mercola also sells his own line of light bulbs.
When to Seek Help
Like anything, if your SAD symptoms are severe, please seek the help of a medical professional. Depression hurts you, but it also hurts your family, your relationships, and can even jeopardize your career. If you want to try a natural treatment for a few weeks before going to a doctor, then go for a walk every day or do another form of exercise you enjoy. As you know, exercise releases feel-good endorphins. And if you walk outdoors, skip the sunglasses! Your body only gets the benefits when the light is taken in by your retinas.
p.s. If you’ve had a good experience with full-spectrum lighting, please leave me a note here or on my Facebook page.