The holiday season is securely in our rearview mirrors. The ornaments are packed away, inflatables deflated, and our trees are curbside. There's something so fulfilling about putting everything in its place. There is also a dark side to the annual unplugging of the festive lights, literally defined by a lack of light.
Shorter days and limited access to fresh air begin to take its toll. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a condition brought on by a lack of natural light. For some, it is marked by the onset of doldrums and sadness. For others it becomes depression, fatigue, weight gain and a disinterest in socializing.
Nicole Schiener, Registered Psychotherapist, Family Counselling Centre of Cambridge & North Dumfries says, "We are more likely to isolate ourselves during the colder months which can make us more vulnerable to depressive symptoms, especially if we work from home, are retired or live alone."
Humans weren't meant to hibernate, "while sometimes staying indoors curled up with a good book or tackling a home renovation or organizing a project is exactly what we need, by nature we are social beings and crave being seen and heard by others."
Come spring we'll liberate ourselves from of homes, squinting at the light, confused and curious as to what we missed.
Escaping to the Caribbean to build sand castles and take long walks on the beach is always an option, but when travel is unaffordable there are certainly other choices.
Light therapy is exactly what it sounds like - substituting the lack of natural light with a light therapy lamp. "Tested devices are typically 10,000 lux (a measure of intensity) and should say something about being 'broad spectrum' and have shielding from harmful "UV rays." It's the UV rays that are put off by fluorescent lights that can harm your eyes," suggests psychologist, Jason Luoma. Results from the light include a decrease in fatigue and sadness which can be felt within a couple weeks.
The use of music as therapy dates back to ancient civilization. When you're tired the right song can get you moving. Surrounding yourself with song is the surest way to happiness. Listening to music has been proven to be mood altering, motivational and best of all - healing. There aren't any real rules either, any music that you find soothing or uplifting is proven to decrease anxiety, and increase self-esteem.
We all know that exercise is good for us, then again it can be hard to commit to when we are driving to work and back in the dark. Many organizations offer gyms right on the premises, but working out doesn't have to happen between four walls. In fact, in the winter months, the benefits of getting fresh air are as significant as the movement you're making. Running, jogging, and even walking are high on the list of exercises that are considered best for overall mental health. All of which can be done outside while absorbing that sought-after vitamin D. Team sports, cycling and aerobics are also suggested in order to increase motivation while creating an opportunity to be social.
Volunteer - a.k.a. make your heart happy
Finding your purpose through a local cause is proven to boost spirits. According to Volunteer Canada, "our sense of purpose is lifted when we see how our efforts have helped someone else. Our confidence lifts when we gain skills and experience through volunteering." By helping others, we help ourselves. Belonging to a social cause can actually shield us from depression by providing meaning to our existence.