Friday, December 21, 2012

Dealing with the Darkness

If you are looking for some deep and metaphorical reflections on the nature of evil, or the mystery of why bad things happen to good people, or the dark night of the soul, or the evil that lies in your own heart/life/friends/enemies/pets, look further. This post is about dealing with literal darkness, i.e. the fact that daylight is pretty short in the winter, especially at the winter solstice. We live in the northern hemisphere, so the winter solstice is December 21. And we live in the northern part of the northern hemisphere, so daylight is distressingly short.

Recently* I went to a workshop on dealing with the darkness. They started with the bad news. Light begins to dwindle in September but October is especially hard as we here at the Yorkshire latitude (about 54 degrees) lose almost four minutes of sunlight each day. That's over an hour less sunlight by the end of October. It gets darkest at the winter solstice, which is now as I post.

Why is this so bad? Sunlight causes an increase in serotonin, which makes people happy and energized. Darkness causes melatonin, which makes people sleepy. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD, possibly the most appropriate acronym ever) is a pattern of depressive episodes occurring in response to light deprivation. Symptoms include increased appetite, increased sleep (for which I would be grateful), daytime drowsiness, lethargy, joint pain, low mood, anxiety, and depression. Sounds awfully zombie-like if you ask me.

But there are plenty of ways to boost serotonin. One is to get a special UV light and have it on for twenty minutes a day. We have just such a "happy light" and use it at breakfast. Another way to get a boost is to go out during the day. Of course, Yorkshire has the classical foggy/cloudy/rainy weather England is famous for, so that is not always practical or as helpful as it could be. One way to encourage going out is to go see something new. The advice at the workshop was to visit new places regardless of the weather. Often the weather changes on a dime here. So don't wait for the rain to stop. There's no bad weather, only wrong clothes!

Another natural way to increase energy and mood is to get exercise. In addition to going out for a walk in the daylight, getting involved in sports or going to the gym can be a big help. Joining a sports team is a great way to get exercise and leads into the next advice.

Another recommendation is to socialize. Laughter also boosts serotonin, so hang out with your funny friends. If your friends aren't funny, find new friends! Actually, the boost from just being with other people is pretty good, so even hanging out is a plus. Play a game or go to the gym together or watch a sit com. Even commiserating about the lousy weather can buoy up sunken spirits. If you don't have enough friends, join a club or pursue a hobby that puts you together with other people. Socializing is satisfying.

So if you are down about the lack of light in your life, find a friend or get some exercise or go out when there is light (or fake it with a "happy light"). Plenty of methods are available to chase away the winter blues, no matter how far you live from the equator.

*By recently, I mean it was a year ago, when we first arrived in England. I've only gotten around to blogging about it a year later. My excuse is the notes I took were lost for a long time. You can choose to believe that or not. I choose to believe it because it is true, but you only have my word for it.

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