No matter what your faith or cultural background, as the holiday season approaches, you may notice, as many people do, that instead of feeling a sense of warm anticipation, you feel a sense of dread. The media is advertising things you can do and buy that are “guaranteed” to make your holidays more meaningful and jolly. You notice that others are bustling about on holiday errands and missions of good will. Why do you feel so bad? And what can you do about it? In this column, I will share some of the reasons that some people find that this “joyous” season falls far short of expectations, and ideas on how you can help yourself to feel better.
Short Days and Long Nights
Do you notice that as the daylight shortens through the fall and into the winter, you feel sadder and more fatigued? You may have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning. You lack motivation and have a difficult time experiencing pleasure. Your self-esteem plummets. To make matters worse, you may crave sweets and, as you give in to these cravings, your clothes become tighter and tighter.
In recent years, the phenomenon of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is related to lack of light through the eyes, has become widely accepted as a cause of this malaise. The good news is that it is often easily relieved, sometimes quickly, and more often gradually, over a period of weeks by increasing exposure to natural and full spectrum light sources.
What Can You Do to Help Yourself?
- See your health care provider. If she or he does not have expertise in addressing Seasonal Affective Disorder, ask for a referral to someone that does have this expertise. Naturopathic physicians and other health care providers are often helpful sources of information on SAD.
- Increase your exposure to natural light. Get outdoors for at least half an hour each day—more if possible—even on cloudy and stormy days. Taking a walk or getting some other kind of exercise while you are outdoors will help you feel better as well. Although window glass is said to block 50 percent of the light, if you must be indoors, spend your time near windows.
- Replace fluorescent light bulbs in your home and workspace with grow lights or “full spectrum” bulbs that are available in most hardware stores. They are more expensive than regular bulbs, but well worth the expense.
- Use a specially designed light box. Many people find that they benefit from this. I have used one for years and find it is absolutely essential—well worth the initial expense. Light box options and information on how they are used can be found through an Internet search.
- Take good care of yourself in every way. Focus on eating healthy food. Instead of eating those sweets that you crave, eat healthy meals that contain lots of fresh vegetables, including root vegetables. Limit your intake of sugar, caffeine and alcohol. Get plenty of exercise. Do things you enjoy. Arrange to spend lots of time with loving family members and friends.