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Don’t Be SAD

Fight #BlueMonday, the Most Depressing Day of the Year, With a Lust for Light

Image by Ralph Feiner

For all the fun that winter bestows — from snow and holidays to skiing and skating — the season also brings other baggage. The weather gets bone-chillingly colder, the days get significantly shorter and the nights get excruciatingly longer.

By virtue of the shorter days,  another critical factor comes into play, one with perhaps the most appropriate-ever acronym: SAD.

Yes, Seasonal Affective Disorder is the very real depression that comes with the change of seasons, and according to the USA’s famed Mayo Clinic, winter-onset SAD can be caused by such factors as:

  • Your body’s circadian rhythm. “The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression.”
  • Serotonin levels. “A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, might play a role in SAD. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression.”

And these conditions are only heightened on the third Monday of January, selected empirically as the most depressing day of the year, and dubbed “Blue Monday” (#BlueMonday).

Indeed, when Shakespeare’s Richard III speaks of one season as “glorious” and another as representative of his “discontent,” it’s not hard to guess which one is summer and which is winter.

Certain flora and fauna are smart enough to hibernate, shut down or migrate south for the season. But most humans don’t have those options.

Humans can, however, seek out daylight when it is available.

RUN FOR DAYLIGHT

The truth is, daylight is absolutely essential to our long-term health and wellbeing. If not perhaps at the nuclear-threat level, it is still at the very least as important as other vital wellness concerns, from diet and nutrition to exercise and a general healthy lifestyle.

Yet, society’s modern way of living challenges and prevents our daily access to daylight and a direct connection to nature. For many, the daily cycle during the work week leaves precious little time for fresh air and outdoor-light exposure.

Typically, we get up early in the morning and race to work. Because of weather-centric urban planning, commuting stations can often lead directly into office buildings, where worker drones never have to be outside whatsoever. We then spend eight to 10 hours inside an office, where many employers tempt their employees with free or on-location food services. Yes, free meals can be a great perk, but there is a catch attached: it also means workers never have to leave the office. And if the employees don’t have standing desks, workers could be indoors and sedentary for the entire work day.

Then, when the work day is done, we rush home, sometimes making a pit stop for groceries, or a quick workout at the gym (if we’re lucky and motivated, and if the kids are occupied). Then we cook (or microwave) dinner, put the children to sleep, watch the evening news, log on to the laptop or other portable screen and finally attempt to go to sleep, even with the sharp, pixielated glow of blue light pulsating in our exhausted eyes.

Our routines have never before comprised such a disastrous mix of commuting, work and unhealthy indoor-oriented distractions, particularly of an electronic nature. The only time spent outside under the open sky during the work week can easily be on the way to and on the way home from the office. In total, we typically spend less than 10% of the time we are awake outdoors, leading to what many experts describe as a “daylight deficit” and a “decoupling from nature.”

The specific consequences of lack of sunlight range from Vitamin D and Nitric Oxide deficiency (which can lead to, respectively, Alzheimer’s & dementia, and obesity) to inability to combat colds and the flu (indoor living without outdoor exposure and daylight impedes sleep cycles, which leaves bodies vulnerable to illness).

So How Do We Get A Little Light in Our Lives?

* Get  out: Access to nature is critical. No matter the weather, it is essential to get outside and walk, for even 30 minutes, and soak up the natural light.

* Mirror, Mirror: Consider adding mirrors to your walls, which reflect natural light and intensify a room’s brightness.

* Think Lightly: Contemplating light can be lifting. For example, watch this poetic, moody video testimonial to the power of light.

Together, we can seek and find the light.

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