Well, it’s happened again. Here we are right in the middle of winter here in the northern hemisphere. The days have started to get longer again since the Solstice, but we are still months away longer days that matter in terms of light and heat or the aid of Daylight Savings Time.
I don’t know about you, but the darkness honestly bums me out every year. I seem to have less energy than in the warmer, brighter times of the year. More than that, I know I’m far from alone.
Even my great love of the night sky which is darker in the winter is not enough to stop me from longing for those longer hours of sunlight.
Medical science calls this Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It is a very real condition affecting many people this time of the year. Estimates range between 1.5 to 9 percent of the American population that suffers full-blown SAD. Perhaps as many as an additional 14% experience a milder, but still clinical condition. Most of us just feel a little blue because our months of outdoor activities are limited by the cold and the dark.
The question is how do we combat these effects and keep our outlook positive? Obviously, people with a serious issue want to seek medical advice, but the rest of us can do a number of non-medical things to get us through the dim, murky depths of the Autumn and Winter seasons.
I have ideas below, but I found this cool video by Swedish videographer, Jonna Jinton, who lives in the north of Sweden. She lives in a world of midnight sun in the summer and polar night in Winter. She has some interesting perspective on dealing with the psychology of it.
- Light therapy – Scientists have discovered that many people have a physical reaction to light deprevation. This can be addressed by something called light therapy. Light therapy involves sitting or lying near a bright light for 30-60 minutes per day. The therapy is most effective when you sit or lie within 15 to 30 cm of the light. The light must be much brighter than ordinary lighting on the order of 2500 to 10,000 lux (wikipedia). Some results can be expected within a week, but it usually takes several weeks to see maximum results from this treatment.
- Internal journey – In mythology, night, darkness, and winter all often symbolize death. This death is not necessarily literal, but metaphorical. The reference is to dying to the external. These concepts are often tied to the internal journey (i.e. going within) as opposed to looking without. We are a very outward looking culture. We draw our social cues, entertainment, and much of our self-understanding from outside. This is not and has not been true of all cultures through time. Be it prayer, meditation, or quiet sitting; the willingness to shut out all the distractions and noise for some period each day can yield tremendous benefits. Try taking advantage of the longer nights and reduced activity to explore within. You are likely to find your dreams, your motivations, and few ghosts awaiting your introspection. Make an adventure out of it. You might emerge in the light and warmth of Spring as a new person.
- Positive thinking – Affirmations and other positive thinking tools become doubly important. Keep your spirits high and thoughts realistic, but forward looking. Regular use of affirmations or other positive thinking tools can help even out the mental valleys and mountains experienced this time of the year.
- Positive change – For those of you into gardening, you know all about planting bulbs in the ground this time of the year. You plant a dormant bulb in the Fall. The bulb spends the winter transforming and emerges in the Spring as something beautiful. Think of yourself as a bulb. Plant who you are today and then work all winter on changes you’ve been wanting to make in your life. Build a plan complete with goals and actions to get you there. By Spring, you will emerge as something new and amazing.
- Hobbies – Throw yourself into a hobby. All summer long you were wishing for a free weekend to get to some indoor activity you really enjoy. Now is the time. Don’t procrastinate! Your hobby keeps your mind focused and engaged and passes the long dark hours until Spring.
The bottom line is that there is no reason to be SAD this time of year. There are steps and techniques to deal with the psychological effects of this time of year. Who knows, you might even reach a place where you actually look forward to setting back the clock.
Be peaceful and be prosperous!