Add Sunshine to Your Day

At a time of year with less sunlight, how to brighten up our days?

Posted Nov 21, 2019

Shutterstock, by permission
Source: Shutterstock, by permission

We may hardly notice the subtle changes that accompany the coming winter. Cooler weather. Those holiday sales. Changing from Daylight Savings Time to standard time is when I take notice. Leaving home for work or school in the dark, and not getting home until after sunset takes its toll. Many people develop a dark attitude to match the long nights and dreary weather.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons, typically starting in the late fall. And even if you don’t suffer from SAD, many of us get a touch of the winter blues. Perhaps a bit of light therapy can help us endure the darkness? 

Let there be light.  In a previous blog post, I described a treatment for SAD known as phototherapy. Therefore, one possible way to overcome the winter blahs may be simply absorbing more light during the darker winter months. Take a break when it’s sunny outside, and enjoy a few minutes of light nourishment. While Vitamin D is better known for helping keep bones strong, it also may be essential for maintaining a positive mood. You can get Vitamin D from fish, liver or eggs, but the best source of “the Sunshine Vitamin” is allowing your body to manufacture it as your skin absorbs sunlight. While dermatologists have been telling us to limit sun exposure to avoid skin cancer, other medical advice suggests that 15 minutes of sunlight twice a week, helps absorb needed Vitamin D. And it feels good too!

The eyes have it.  If we just need Vitamin D, supplements should work as well as sunlight exposure. However, the research is mixed. Taking extra Vitamin D does not always alleviate symptoms of the winter blues.  It turns out that our eyes do a lot more than vision.  Animals are sensitive to a change in season, driving biorhythms and behaviors like hibernating or migrating south. Research on how animals notice the change in the season shows that all mammals have fibers going from retina to hypothalamus, a part of the brain that controls our hormones. This is how sunlight duration influences us. Hormones affecting our moods are influenced by the amount of light coming into our eyes. For those experiencing low energy and depressed moods, it may help to turn on more bright lights as winter approaches. Of course, as with sun exposure to the skin, beware of too much light coming into your eyes. UV light can be damaging to your visions. Blue light, from excess screen time, can confuse your hormones and disrupt sleep. So, find the right mix to suit your mood and health.

Artificial Phototherapy.  Not everyone can get outside on a sunny day, especially in cold and wintry weather.  The good news is that the symptoms of winter blues can be reduced by using a “lightbox” for daily exposure to artificial light. Your kitchen fluorescent lights may not be enough. Lightboxes are bright (over 10,000 lux) and filter the unsafe UV radiation out of the light. Just 20 minutes a day, morning and evening, work well for many, shining your blues away. Here is a review of light therapy lamps.

Lighten Up!  Perhaps the most important tip for the dark days of winter is to keep your sunny side up. You can intentionally brighten your mood and your day. One technique is to “Fake it till you make it.” In other words, act out the way you want to feel. Try to role-play as buoyant, joyful, and optimistic.  Moods are contagious, so one can induce a happier mood by simply acting the part.  Treat yourself well. Smile in the mirror. Do an unexpected good deed for another person. Avoid a pity party, and be the sunshine in your own life. You can generate a lighter mood, at least until springtime.  

Password: “Shine on!”

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