In the U.S., Labor Day unofficially marks the end of summer. The kids are back in school, and even though the calendar says autumn begins with the September equinox, you may already be dreading shorter, darker days.
Before winter finally sets in, you may love the crisp air, and outdoor fall activities. It’s a great time for long walks, and letting your kids jump into piles of leaves. But even the most cheerful of us can feel a shock when Daylight Savings Time ends, and suddenly we are driving home from work in the dark.
Lots of people feel some level of depression hit quickly when the nights grow long. But many people will feel it harder than ever to beat depression as the prospect of a cold, dark winter stretches out before them. These people may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which can range from mild to disabling.
Research suggests that SAD may have a physical connection. Scientific American reports that certain neurons, which produce the feel good chemicals norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin in the brain, actually die when lab rats don’t get enough light. Fewer neurotransmitters equals more depression, and for months to come.
If your symptoms are severe, and you can see a seasonal trend, talk with your doctor. For those less affected, there is help out there for do-it-yourself light therapy, which can also be used in conjunction with medical advice.
Get as much light as you can early in the day. If the temperature is minus anything, then you may not want to step outside, but drink your coffee at a sunny window, or turn on more lights in the morning.
Take advantage of outside winter chores. Yes, shoveling your car out of the snow can be a pain. But appreciate it as a way to get some winter sunshine, and your heart and muscles moving. A bent-handle “back saver” shovel makes shoveling easier, so you have the strength to build a snowman.
Try a sunlight alarm clock. The idea behind these clever clocks is that their domed top gradually gets brighter and brighter, allowing you to wake up gently as if the sun were coming up in your room.
Try a light box. Light therapy boxes are available from healthy lifestyle retailers, and can be found around $200. You can set them beside you on a desk or anywhere and experience more light wherever you are.
Look for a non-flickering light box, free of UV rays, which offers full spectrum light to mimic sunlight. Proponents say that 30 minutes a day are enough for noticeable benefits.
Relight your home with multi-spectrum bulbs. Fluorescents bulbs are good for saving power and money. But multi-spectrum bulbs bring out more color to the surrounding area, and might be more beneficial. If you switch bulbs for a few months of the year, it shouldn’t blow your budget. And if you are sensitive to it, the flicker of fluorescents can make you feel irritable and anxious.
Despite the cold, short days, winter can have plenty of happy times and experiences. Focus on what you love, and winter depression may fade away.