T.S. Eliot famously wrote that April is the cruelest month, but he clearly had no idea what winter is like in the northernmost parts of the world in January. The lack of sunlight, cold weather and post-holiday blues all negatively affect mood and energy levels. For others, depression creeps in as early as August.
The winter daytime sun hovers below the horizon in Stockholm and the rest of the northern regions. Even worse? Once the sun is up, it has trouble reaching many places around cities because of tall buildings. Insert cloudy days and stormy winter weather into this formula and it’s the perfect recipe for Seasonal Affective Disorder: feeling listless, low on energy, coupled with sad thoughts and feelings!
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can cause more problems than you think
Researchers studying Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in rats (because they are mammals like humans) concluded that:
- Normal amounts of light contribute to the circadian system running optimally
- When we don’t get the necessary amount of light, it leads to changes in the brain systems that regulate mood
- Not getting enough light damages the brain’s ability to release the chemicals (norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin) we need to feel good!
We also know Vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin” is important. Our body produces Vitamin D when our skin is exposed to sunlight. If you don’t get enough Vitamin D, you may:
- Sleep poorly
- Experience low moods
- Suffer from a host of other physical and mood conditions you can read about here
Refill your vitamin D supplement and take it every day. Make sure you eat a variety of beautiful fruits and vegetables our grocery stores carry even in the winter. Take time to nourish yourself from the inside, as well as outside.
You can get more natural light during the winter. No excuses!
In winter it’s harder to get enough natural light! During the darkest days in Sweden we only get 6 hours of sunlight. When you see that sunshine peeking out, get yourself outside.
Good habits are integral for having a good life. During the winter, you dress accordingly: boots, hat, scarf, coat, etc. Think of good sunshine habits as an additional layer to keeping you safe during this time. When the sun comes out during the day:
- Take your lunch outdoors
- Put on your boots and have a walk outside
- Skip the caffeine and sugar in an afternoon coffee and stroll around the block instead
Notice a theme, there?
Fight the winter blues – light up your life with a therapy light
To get off on the right foot, make sure the place where you have your breakfast is well lit. True, us Northerners prefer those cozy candles, but they aren’t doing us any favors.
Buy a good therapy light and make use of it during breakfast or at your desk in the morning. 30 minutes a day will blast away that melatonin and boost your energy for the day. A 10,000 Lux for light is the best choice.
Once I realized I had also metaphorically hit the winter wall, I decided to fight back! I bought my therapy light and just realized the other day its name was Lumie. Lumie and I visit together every morning.
(Yes, even a therapist can benefit from a therapy light!)
Brighter light in the morning ceases the production of the sleep hormone melatonin, which slows our bodies down to put us to sleep.
I bought Lumie here in Sweden, but this lamp is worth looking at. It has 10,000 lux for light and that’s the right amount you need.
Schedule fun into your every day
Energy levels run out sooner in the fall and winter than in the lighter months. This is just a fact. Schedule fun in your life and do it. Include pleasureable moments before all the responsible work gets done. This may seem counterintuitive, but keep in mind that responsible work will not get done if you are worn out–then there is no time for fun.
Other ideas for getting more fun into your life:
Actually when you are feeling low you will actually be “daydreaming” about something you are longing to do. Pay attention to those daydreams! How can you bring some of them into your life now? (Read this blog post to learn how you can bring even your biggest daydreams into your life now).
Just yesterday the low-hanging sun finally hit my face after a 5 day stretch of clouds. I realized I wanted to go horseback riding. It felt like a silly idea out of the blue, though it made me smile. That was something I had not done for over 20 years. I really thought about doing it and smiled some more. I am curious to see if I partake on this adventure this winter. I hope I am a good friend to myself and I surprise myself with a horseback ride in the ol’west.
During these darker days, send some much-needed extra TLC toward your Self and parts
These darker days need TLC (tender loving care) towards yourself. I have said it before and I will say it again: Send you judgmental parts away on a winter holiday. If you are feeling low ask how you can support yourself now. What do you need? TLC in your thoughts towards yourself is always a beginning.
Another exciting surprise about winter is that if you can manage to keep yourself feeling “good enough” most days you will be able to plant the seeds of creativity to sprout in the spring and early summer months.
I gave birth to my first book Inner Harmony:Putting Your Self Back in Charge in cold and windy March. I wanted it to happen but really had not thought it possible when the months of winter are so low on energy.
These winter months really are not low energy months. They are different energy months and the quality of this energy is amazing if you don’t get yourself too tired out wanting to be like it is in the summer months.
Keep these winter days simple and doable and full of TLC. Avoid feeling SAD.