When the sun is out, my spirit soars; when the day is gray, with a ceiling of dense clouds, my energy is low and my outlook leans accordingly toward the dim. There is something embarrassing about being at the mercy of the weather to this degree. After all, there will always be cloudy days, and it seems that external and uncontrollable forces shouldn’t have such influence on my internal circumstances, my state of mind and the manner in which I live on any particular day.
Clearly, I am at the far end of sensitivity to diminished daylight. In Washington State where I live, it is thought that 20% of us approach this degree of sensitivity and that at least a third struggle to some extent. Many believe that movies, books, antidepressants, and coffee flourish in the Pacific Northwest due to the relentless daytime shroud. The cloud ceiling starts in November and remains solid for about three interminable months.
It must be noted that we do get occasional sunbreaks. Is this word even used elsewhere? Here, it is understood that people will put down what they are working on and run outside to experience the sun on their faces for at least a few precious minutes. I have ungraciously and abruptly gotten off the phone during one of these sudden emanations in order to walk around in it, feel it on my skin, and focus on being fully receptive to it.
No matter where you live, getting ready in autumn to fend off winter blues is crucial if you are sensitive to the loss of daylight. I start stockpiling 72% dark chocolate, buying several bars each time it goes on sale. I also prepare a towering stack of good novels on my nightstand. It is best to come up with your own personally tailored strategies that make a difference for you, but I am offering my own approaches that have evolved over the forty bleak winters I have endured since I moved here.
My cardinal rule is to take advantage of every sunbreak, no matter how busy I am. I always picture the pineal gland, our so-called third eye, that sits beneath the center of our forehead deep in the oldest part of the brain. I close my eyes and put my face in the sun knowing I am fulfilling an ancient biological necessity. I remind myself that the photoreceptors in my skin are literally drinking in the light. Accordingly, it seems I get a surge of energy each time I do this.
I also force myself to go for a brief, brisk walk outside every day, no matter how cold, rainy, and uninviting it is out there. Those who study winter blues in the Pacific Northwest find that outdoor daylight, even on the darkest days, still supplies a significant level of brightness. Indoors, I open all the shades and curtains during the day and turn up all the lights starting at dusk until bedtime. Once a day, I make sure to sit near our lightbox purchased years ago when the diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder was first described. It produces a sun-like level of illumination such that I can feel the difference in my mood after fifteen minutes. Now full-spectrum lamps are available that are similar to lightboxes but much less expensive.
Movement itself pushes sadness aside. One of the best anti-blues tactics is to throw yourself down on the carpet and get back up over and over again. I call them throw-downs. These keep you limber, and the absurdity of doing them may make you laugh. If you are able, doing several of these in quick succession to the point of breathlessness produces real refreshment. If this is hard to do, you may still benefit from getting down on the floor carefully and then using furniture to climb back up, thus gaining strength and preserving an important capacity along with bolstering your spirits.
Keeping a few indoor projects going enlivens me, acting as a countervailing force in the dead of winter. I assemble the needed materials and make a convenient space so that little initiative is required. For instance, I have a stack of blank cards and envelopes on my desk, alongside an inviting riot of colorful markers and artist pencils at the ready. Anything that gives you a sense of satisfaction or accomplishment is good. I have a friend who orders seeds from a catalog for her summer garden and fills her seedling trays with soil, making March part of her life in December.
I look forward to and celebrate the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. There have been winters when I counted the days until this juncture. From this point on, each day will be longer than the one before. I tell myself, “You made it.” My internal cheering squad goes into full gear welcoming the prolongation of daylight, this ascending toward spring. From then on I pay attention to how much longer the daylight lasts each day, spurring brighter feelings with this emphasis.
Above all, I remind myself that I’m not the only one struggling through the dark days. Once, having flown to another part of the country during the winter, I stood for a long time in the airport rental car parking lot just to absorb the sunlight. It was truly a glorious interlude that I wanted to prolong as long as I could. Then I noticed another woman on the next aisle also standing there, not getting into her rental car, her face toward the sun. She smiled at me and called out: “Are you from Seattle, too?” We laughed, and then went back to the serious business of restoring our spirits.
Copyright: Wendy Lustbader, 2019
This content was originally published here.