If you suffer from SAD, you'll want to read this
The sun will be in full-on holiday mode this week, checking out early every day.
This beautiful sunset was taken around noon. (OK, maybe 4:19 pm, but still too early.)
As I was driving home from a gig yesterday afternoon around 4, I was overcome by the beauty of the sunset. At first, I was just busy appreciating the sunset. But then I thought… wait a minute, it’s like 4:30, and it’s almost dark.
(Remind me why I live here again?)
Welcome to winter in Wisconsin.
And also most of the Northern Hemisphere.
Did you know that for another week or so, the sunset will be around 4:19 pm?
That’s a little depressing from a “not many hours of daylight” standpoint.
But, actually, the dark days of December can be downright depressing as this time of year is a bit of a bummer due to the reduced daylight.
I know I’ve felt it, and my dad, who was a doctor, saw it in his patients and wrote about it here.
As a kid, I remember my grandma struggled in the winter as well. And, since it was the 80s, SAD lights weren’t an Amazon/internet click away, and maybe they weren’t even mainstream. So, my dad hooked my grandma up with a light, compliments of my uncles, who were both vets. If I remember the story correctly, the light had been used in a barn to keep baby chickens thriving.
At any rate, my dad and his two brothers pooled their collective resources and knowledge to help their mom feel a little less blue in winter.
The winter blues are real.
Experts call this depression Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It’s very much a real thing and can be triggered by December’s changes in daylight hours. (And continued throughout the winter months.) Symptoms include low mood and lack of energy.
Adding insult to injury is the fact that reduced daylight doesn’t just mess with our plans to walk Rover while it’s still light, it also messes with our circadian rhythms and in effect, throws off our sleep patterns. This leaves us tired and irritated and definitely affects our mood.
Throw in a few holiday parties, kids’ plays and concerts, shopping, cleaning, and everything else that goes with the season, and you’re probably a bit of a stress case. Add the darkness, and you’re a SAD stress case.
Ho. Ho. Ho.
Finally, beyond the issue of darkness, we can’t forget that the holidays aren’t fun for everyone. For those who are alone, missing loved ones, or going through difficult times, the season can feel anything but joyful.
This is why it’s so important to not only recognize the signs of SAD but also learn how to cope with it and be on the lookout for signs of SADness in those we know and love.
As our days become shorter, pay attention to:
Signs of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD):
Depressed Mood & Low Energy: Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or emptiness that extend beyond a bad day. You find you’re lacking in energy to do the easiest of tasks.
Loss of Interest: Not into making Aunt Hilda’s cookies this year? Ditching the party you’ve attended every year since college?
Sleep & Appetite Changes: You’re sleeping too much or not enough.
And weight changes are happening that aren’t due to your holiday treat intake. (Or maybe you don’t even want treats.)
Difficulty Concentrating & Irritability: More brain fog than normal, and you can’t concentrate to save your life. Plus, your BFF or partner notices you’ve been flying off the handle for no reason.
Feelings of Worthlessness: You’re not being good to yourself in your thoughts or actions.
Social Withdrawal: Preferring the Hallmark Channel to social interactions. (While yes, that does sound pretty groovy, a little social interaction normally seems like a good thing. When it doesn’t… could signal a problem.)
Physical Symptoms: Headaches and body aches that coincide with the onset of December’s dark days.
If one or more of those symptoms hits home, consider one of these remedies:
Light Therapy - Expose yourself to morning light whenever possible. Look into light therapy boxes that mimic natural sunlight and use them for 20-30 minutes per day.
Regular Exercise: Move your body; bonus points if you do it outdoors.
Eat Well & Don’t Forget Your Vitamin D: Try to balance holiday temptations with solid nutrition and eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
Self-Care & Do Activities You Enjoy: Meditate, do yoga, get a massage/mani/pedi/facial… anything to give yourself some self-love.
Be Social: Stay connected with friends and family. Hang out in a coffee shop or head to a group exercise class… just spend some time with people.
Talk to someone: Get help from a therapist or counselor if necessary, and seek medication if necessary.
Create a Light Environment: Mood lighting is great but could be the ultimate bummer when it’s dark all the time. Light your space accordingly.
Finally, embrace the season - darkness and all. Maybe try a Winter Solstice meditation or have a Solstice party. And remember, that time passes oh so quickly… before we know it, we’ll be ringing in the Summer Solstice.
Wishing you a peaceful December.