My husband wakes up to NPR on his clock radio (yes, old school). So this morning I woke up to this announcement: “The days are getting shorter and colder, but don’t retreat.” He turned the radio off, so I’m not sure what came next.
But, I think this concept is harder than ever this year with the Coronavirus running rampant. Health departments and leaders are begging us to avoid gatherings with friends and family at a time when we typically gather more frequently. Add to that that every day IS getting shorter and in a lot of places it IS getting colder, and it truly can be hard to think that this is the most magical time of year.
How Sad Are You?
As the days get shorter and colder, many people experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Symptoms include depression, changes in appetite (especially eating more sweets and carbs), lack of interest in normal activities, and fatigue. According to the American Psychiatric Association, approximately 5% of the US population suffers from SAD with women being affected more often than men. Also, another 10 – 20% experience less severe symptoms.
With social distancing and fear of getting sick in today’s world, I suspect the incidence of SAD is worse this year. And we are also sad for the all the things we cannot do right now, from gather with friends and family, to travel, to even eat out in a restaurant (indoors anyway). If you have severe SAD, or major depression, you should seek the help of a medical profession. But, for less severe symptoms, there are several things we can do to lift our spirits and our outlook that don’t include eating every Christmas treat in sight.
First, try to get outside, especially on sunny days. Take even 5 minutes at lunchtime to take a break. Bundle up if it’s cold, but I guarantee that getting outside will do you good. A quick walk around the block, or longer if you have time will invigorate you. If you can’t get outside, try to get regular indoor exercise. Traditional treatment includes using a light box for 20 minutes or more a day during the winter months.
Second, allow yourself a holiday goodie here and there, but mostly eat healthy food. When we eat healthy food, we generally feel better, physically and psychologically. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this review of 47 studies on healthy eating on both physical and mental health and feelings of happiness. Adding some healthy omega 3 fatty acids may also help.
Third, be physical distant, yes, but don’t lose connections with ones you care about. While Zoom fatigue may be as real as COVID fatigue, when we use technology to keep in touch, it does lift our spirits. I had a zoom meeting with people from my high school class yesterday. Most were people I hadn’t seen or talked with in years. It was fun! And, it wouldn’t have happened without the pandemic. I have also had zoom visits with friends and family and found that it is sometimes even easier to schedule than in person meet-ups.
Fourth, remember that neither winter NOR the pandemic will last forever. Take it a day at a time. I am encouraged by the rolling out of the vaccine. It makes a belief in a return to normalcy seem possible in 2021. Fifth, find something to look forward to: plan a vacation for next summer when travel should be better, or plot out the garden you will grow next year, the mountain you will trek, the race you will enter… Or maybe all of the above!
Finally, if you live in Colorado, take heart in the fact that even though we haven’t reached the winter solstice, we HAVE passed the day when the sun sets the earliest. This has to do with the way the earth is positioned. So, even though the amount of total sunlight is still getting less until December 21, every day from now until June, the sun will set a little later in the day. That’s enough to cheer my day!