Hug the Dog, Plus Other Thoughts on Seasonal Affective Disorder

I’m sitting in front of the HappyLight waiting for the giddy to kick in. Okay, it’s not exactly a feeling of giddiness and there’s not a switch that gets flipped to take you from obviously sad to blatantly happy, but after the fact, after I’ve sat here for 30 or 40 minutes with this light shining in my eyes, there can be a sense of mild euphoria that is both disconcerting and pleasing after feeling so dark.

To keep a sense of balance, I really need to sit with this thing every day. Skipping a day ultimately results in a funk. It’s not addictive, but I miss it when it’s not there.

The SAD has been worse for me this year than I can ever remember and it’s only the beginning of February. It was late in coming; early January instead of November, and I thought briefly that this might be one of those years when I escaped its clutches. Maybe I got enough Vitamin D from being out in the sun all summer — there have been years where that actually did happen. But it hit like a truck during the first week of January when both Greg and I came down with that terrible flu that has been going around. My case was surprisingly mild (a rarity for a person who gets colds that leave her with 10-week bouts of laryngitis), but it was bad enough that I felt like crap long after the fever and the coughing had stopped.

Continue reading “Hug the Dog, Plus Other Thoughts on Seasonal Affective Disorder”

Let There Be Light – Self Care Month Day 1

Welcome to February. February sucks.

In the northern hemisphere, February is likely to be the coldest month, and the time when we’re most likely to feel down, either because of mental health issues such as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or just because the cold weather makes it feel as if there just isn’t that much to do.

This year, because of political issues in the USA, most people I know are also feeling very anxious and tightly strung as we all try to wrap our heads around what asinine idea or edict the US president is going to come up with next. As people’s rights quickly disappear and the population tries to unite and fight this freakish narcissistic oppressor, more than ever, we all need to indulge in some self care.

As far as I can tell, there doesn’t seem to be an official “self care month”. Google pulls up some references to it being in July, and I found a website that says November, but really, if there is ever a specific month when we all need some self care, it’s gotta be February.

So I have a full month of things anybody can do – and they’re mostly small, inexpensive things – to feel better and get through the month. They are February, northern hemisphere-specific things (ideas such as sitting in a garden, or lying in the grass and looking at the sky are not super-practical right now), so YMMV depending on where you live, but I think most things will be relevant in some way.

I hope you enjoy, and that this month of suggestions is useful to you.

Let There Be Light – Self Care Month Day 1

I’m starting my self care suggestions with the one that has been the most helpful to me over the years, which is light therapy.

The Mayo Clinic explains light therapy…

Light therapy is a way to treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and certain other conditions by exposure to artificial light. SAD is a type of depression that occurs at a certain time each year, usually in the fall or winter.

During light therapy, you sit or work near a device called a light therapy box. The box gives off bright light that mimics natural outdoor light.

Light therapy is thought to affect brain chemicals linked to mood and sleep, easing SAD symptoms. Using a light therapy box may also help with other types of depression, sleep disorders and other conditions. Light therapy is also known as bright light therapy or phototherapy.

I use two types of light therapy to help me feel better in the winter months; the first is the light therapy box. These come in a variety of styles and strengths, but for all of them, you simply sit in front of the thing for about an hour each day. I keep mine on my desk and turn it on when I start to work. Stronger versions require early morning use as the bright light can mess up circadian rhythms if used too late in the day, but I use my lower intensity lamp around noon each day and have no problem. It really does help me feel brighter and more cheerful, especially in the afternoons when I’m likely to experience a slump.

The second lamp that literally changed my life was a simulated sunrise lamp. This is a lamp with an alarm clock that starts gradually getting brighter until the alarm goes off, filling the room with a warm glow, sort of like a sunrise. More expensive models have a more authentic light (pinkish glow as opposed to yellow) and can include radios just like a standard alarm clock, or even a selection of sounds so you can wake up to birds singing instead of the typical alarm noise.

For anybody who hates getting up in the dark, especially in winter, I cannot recommend this product enough. My mornings went from “garr, I don’t wanna!” to cheerfully looking forward to my day, just as I do in the summer when the sun in shining in the window.

Speaking of the sun, while we’re not currently close enough to the burning sky orb for our bodies to make Vitamin D (and we’re too covered up in the cold for our skin to absorb it anyway), being outside on a sunny winter day can also help if buying these lamps is out of your budget. Just getting up and moving around and being outside in the fresh air can go a long way to making you feel better.

Clean as the New Fallen Snow

We went to the Festival of Lights Solstice parade last night. Which I guess is what you do if you’re not quite sure how else to celebrate the season but want to pay homage to nature, pre-Christian traditions or just generally like the sound of hippies banging drums. Because you can be sure that all the real Pagans and Wiccans who consider this an actual religious event were probably not standing around in Kensington Market last night watching people walk around with lanterns.

However, the idea of celebrating the Solstice is much more concrete to me than the birth of Jesus. Yes, I believe Jesus existed, but I’ve always taken umbrage with the idea that early Christians moved the celebration of his birth to coincide with Saturnalia and the Solstice to lure pagans to Christianity through the temptation of a bigger and better party. Almost all of the “traditional” Christmas traditions predate Christ.

Also, as someone who is really into food, sustainability, supporting farmers and enjoying the harvest, the Solstice as the huge year-end celebration just seems to make so much more sense. On the darkest day of the year, it is just so logical and down to earth to celebrate the returning of the sun, without which we could not survive. After a long year of harvesting, the Solstice celebration is not only a way to enjoy what has been reaped in the previous year but a way to look ahead to the the year and new crops and new conquests.

Continue reading “Clean as the New Fallen Snow”