The season of gloom is upon us. It's cold, dark and yucky. You go to work in the dark. You come home in the dark. It's enough to drive some of us into a deep funk. To make sure you don't stay there long, try some proactive winterizing: rearrange your dwelling for maximum light exposure, accent with exhilarating colours, switch your diet for cold-weather eating and realize that your movement-loving body needs loads of self-expression despite your hankering for hibernation.
Myself, I find that if I go more than a day or two without some form of exercise I get seriously out of whack and can even start snarking at people I care about for no apparent reason. And that is so bad. Best to nip that sort of thing in the bud before it happens.
For some, late fall carries more than the risk of merely grousing about the low cloud cover - it brings an actual identifiable syndrome, S.A.D., seasonal affective disorder. This difficult-to-diagnose affliction, a form of the blues, can last winter-long, causing fatigue, irritability, weight gain, anxiety, desperation and difficulty concentrating.
This is theoretically connected to seasonal light variations and shorter days. Some experts advocate exposure to a special fluorescent light box. Ordinary bulbs won't do the job. They're usually less than 500 lux, while midday summer sunlight can reach 50,000 lux or higher. But seek professional help in case your depression is more hardcore. If your affliction is truly of the climate-controlled variety, you might make use of all the indoor time and nesting behaviours to figure yourself out and clear up more long-term emotional ailments.
What The Experts Say
"Eat/breathe/drink/wear a rainbow a day, specifically red-orange-yellow-green-sky blue-indigo-violet . Incorporating a full range of colours, whether in your clothes or the foods you eat or the colour frequencies you absorb from the visible spectrum, is an important component in a vibrant existence. Did you know it takes a mere eight and a half minutes for a light photon to travel from the surface of the sun to our skin? The DNA strands within our cells communicate with each other through the colours of the spectrum."
JULIANNE BIEN , colour light consultant, Toronto
"According to traditional Chinese medical theory, each seasonal change challenges a different meridian. The change to fall, followed by winter, is considered the hardest time on the lung and kidney meridians. As the temperature drops outside, lung energy can be compromised by the dryness of our indoor heating. This affects the yin, or moisture, of the lungs as well as the defensive energy (immunity). We are also more exposed to airborne pathogens as windows and doors are closed. The cold can adversely affect the kidney meridian, too, which stores our vital force . Qigong can be helpful. Ginseng is also good. Tai chi (a form of qigong), while conferring these benefits, also tends to warm you up."
PAUL McCAUGHEY , traditional Chinese medicine practitioner, Toronto
"In cold weather we need comfort food, but we have to be cautious not to go on the heavy side. Foods that give us grounding, satiation and comfort are the root vegetables (turnips, beets, carrots, potatoes). People are afraid of getting fat, but you need a little bit more fat - otherwise, you catch cold easily. All plants and foods that contain chlorophyll (are good) because they have already captured the sun's energy."
VIVIAN LEE , registered holistic nutritionist
"Not to deny the existence of S.A.D., but there is more than likely some predisposition to depression in individuals who suffer from it. When they experience the absence of sunlight, depression comes to the fore. This factor alone can contribute to a desire to sleep for longer periods, which may result in a more active dream life. Dreams are one way to get a more accurate read on issues. The dream will place you in some landscape or situation that evokes very particular feelings. Those feelings and emotions are what you need to pay attention to. Get the essence of what you were feeling in the dream, then remove it from the circumstances of the dream and just sit with it to see how it attaches itself to something in your life."
JAN OHM, psychotherapist, dream therapist
"Humans are built for physical activity, and in the cold this becomes challenging. One study showed physically active people inactive for a week became more depressed, anxious, lethargic and irritable and had trouble concentrating. Recognizing that physical activity has an effect on your mood and well-being as well as your heart and lungs can be a motivator."
KATE HAYS , PhD, registered sports and clinical psychologist, author of Move Your Body, Tone Your Mood