Preventing the winter blues
Can you feel the change in the morning light?
Now that the autumnal equinox has passed, there is officially more darkness than daylight. Even though fall has merely begun, we’ve officially entered the dark days of the year. So it’s time to take some proactive measures before being snow plowed by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in a couple months time and wondering which way is up.
For those of you who have never experienced the winter blues, Seasonal Affective Disorder might seem like a loosey goosey diagnosis but it’s very real for the millions of us who experience a spike in melancholy, grief, and depression as the sunlight wanes. Other symptoms like insomnia can also become more acute during these months.
For the first several years that I lived in New York City, SAD would sneak up on me. It wasn’t until the days lengthened in April that I realized what a staggering difference sunlight made on my mood. But it’s not just sunlight at any time, but sunlight in the early morning.
The Israelis don’t just say “good morning” (boker tov) to one another at dawn; there’s a special term, “Morning light” (boker or). I was tickled to be greeted in this fashion during my 5:45 am walks during my last visit there during the summer of 2018. It’s as if everyone I passed—be it on the beach or on the meandering path outside my cousin’s apartment complex—knew there was something magical about being up and about early.
That’s why when I led walks in New York City parks prior to Covid, we met at 8 am. That wasn’t exactly the first light, but it was the earliest I could meet after getting my kids on their respective school buses, and during the dark days of winter, the light at 8 am is still relatively early. Several would-be participants asked if we could move the time to noon so it would coincide with their respective lunch breaks, and while I considered adding it, I didn’t want the new time to replace the morning walks—there’s no substitute for getting sunlight as early as possible in the day when daylight hours have decreased.
And if a long morning walk doesn’t jibe with your schedule, no worries. Start with five minutes of some kind of outdoor activity, and, yes, drinking a warm beverage outside air counts.
If getting outside early is impossible for you, then I suggest using a special light such as this one. The key is to start using it now, ideally two times per day for 15-30 minutes before noon. If that sounds too daunting, start using it once a day for five minutes and build gradually. Consistency, like all lifestyle hacks, is paramount.
But don’t wait until you’re feeling down to start. In five weeks, we’ll return to “Standard Time” from Daylight Savings when literally overnight it will be dark early in the afternoon. The good news, of course, is that it won’t be dark when many of us rise in the morning, but if we sleep in late, we’re left with fewer hours of sunshine during our waking hours, which can have a negative effect on our mental health .
I’m feeling a twinge of grief writing this, but I also know that banking as much morning sunshine in the days ahead will help me—and you—with this transition.
Interested in taking a nutritional and lifestyle approach to combating SAD? I’m here to help! Schedule a free consult today!