I wanted to give you guys a few days notice … to brace yourself for … the most depressing day of the year!
According to Dr. Cliff Arnalls, a British psychologist with Cardiff University, it’s almost like clockwork. A number of factors coincide to make Sunday, January 24th “the perfect storm” when it comes to feeling down. According to Dr. Arnalls, an expert on seasonal disorders, a number of factors “line up” to give this date in late January this dubious distinction:
- While it is not technically the day with the least sunlight – that’s December 21st, the “Winter Solstice” – weather patterns often conspire in late January to deprive us of the sunlight we might otherwise enjoy,
- Christmas bills come due around this time, and – especially in this economy – that’s a harsh blow,
- Even those remarkable individuals who have faithfully stuck to their New Year’s resolutions for a few weeks, are now beginning to falter.
All in all, these forces coalesce around January 24th to leave a remarkable number of us feeling “down in the dumps.” In a twisted sort of way, that means I will feel good on January 24. Because I’m SUPPOSED to feel bad, which will create less pressure for me to feel happy, like say on the first warm spring day.
So, what is one supposed to do to prepare for this day?
1. Watch the sugar.
I think our body gets the cue just before Thanksgiving that it will be hibernating for a few months, so it needs to ingest everything edible in sight. And I’m convinced the snow somehow communicates to the human brain the need to consume every kind of chocolate available in the house.
People with depression and addicts need to be especially careful with sweets because the addiction to sugar and white-flour products is very real and physiological, affecting the same biochemical systems in your body as other drugs like heroin. According to Kathleen DesMaisons, author of “Potatoes Not Prozac”: Your relationship to sweet things is operating on a cellular level. It is more powerful than you have realized…. What you eat can have a huge effect on how you feel.”
2. Use a light lamp.
Bright-light therapy-involving sitting in front of a fluorescent light box that delivers an intensity of 10,000 lux-can be as effect as antidepressant medication for mild and moderate depression and can yield substantial relief for Seasonal Affective Disorder. I usually turn on my mammoth HappyLite in November, just after my least favorite day of the year: when Daylight Saving Time ends and we “fall back” an hour, which means that I have about an hour of sunlight to enjoy after I pick up the kids from school.
3. Wear bright colors.
I have no research supporting this theory, but I’m quite convinced there is a link between feeling optimistic and sporting bright colors. It’s in line with “faking it ’til you make it,” desperate attempts to trick your brain into thinking that it’s sunny and beautiful outside-time to celebrate Spring!-even though it’s a blizzard with sleet causing some major traffic jams.
Personally, I tend to wear black everyday in the winter. It’s supposed to make you look thinner. But the result is that I appear as if and feel like I’m going to a funeral every afternoon between the months of November and March. This isn’t good. Not for a person hardwired to stress and worry and get depressed when it’s cold. So I make a conscious effort to wear bright green, purple, blue, and pink, and sometimes-if I’m in a rush-all of them together!
4. Force yourself outside.
I realize that the last thing you want to do when it’s 20 degrees outside and the roads are slushy is to head outside for a leisurely stroll around the neighborhood. It’s much more fun to cuddle up with a good novel or make chocolate chip cookies and enjoy them with a hot cup of joe.
On many winter days-especially in late January and early February when my brain is done with the darkness-I have to literally force myself outside, however brief. Because even on cloudy and overcast days, your mood can benefit from exposure to sunlight. Midday light, especially, provides Vitamin D to help boost your limbic system, the emotional center of the brain. And there is something so healing about connecting with nature, even if it’s covered in snow.
5. Hang out with friends.
This seems like an obvious depression buster. Of course you get together with your buddies when your mood starts to go south. But that’s exactly when many of us tend to isolate. I believe that it takes a village to keep a person sane and happy. That’s why we need so many support groups today. People need to be validated and encouraged and inspired by persons on the same journey. And with all the technology today, folks don’t even have to throw on their slippers to get to a support group. Online communities provide a village of friendship right at your computer.