Creating Hope in Winter

This is the day I think of as “So Low That Down Is Up” day…the day where there is more darkness than any other day of the year. I’m a light-lover by nature, and so these long cold winter nights are hard on me.

Not only me. I think the majority of us are affected by the darkness. Hope seems thin. It’s hard to get out of bed in the morning. Life feels heavy and it’s just a tougher slog than in the winter than other times of the year. It’s hard to get moving…and the cold makes it even more difficult to talk oneself out of staying on the couch and doing something productive. And on days like today, it just seems that potato chips, chocolate, or ________ (insert high sugar/high fat carb here) would make it all go away for a while. It doesn’t really, but one could convince oneself easily and regularly to be so.

Natural full spectrum light plays an important role in our biology, our neurochemistry. It regulates melatonin, which interacts and affects other substances in our body, which impacts on quality of sleep and energy level. It has been suggested that sunshine in an important nutrient to us.

To that end, people as far north as we are, and as bundled as we are, and as avoidant of the outdoors as many of us can be when it’s cold, many Winnipeggers are impacted by the winter and experience what some might call “the winter blues”.

The sure cure for this is beach time on some tropical beach (preferably with a good book and some sort of drink with one of those little cute umbrellas in it). Alas, that isn’t a feasible option for many of us, and so we’re challenged with coming up with other, albeit less effective, strategies. Natural antidepressants can be helpful…and need to not be underestimated:

  • Exercise. Preferably outdoors. Getting moving does good things for our bodies, changes body chemistry by releasing endorphins and regulating all those hormones that can shape mood. Regular exercise is great for those winter blues.
  • Good Food Choices. High fat and food with simple sugars create a quick lift…and then a quick crash as our body swings with the quick digestion. Food with more complex carbohydrates with fibre and foods high in protein facilitate a longer “burn” evening out blood sugar levels.
  • Human Connection. We are created to be social beings, and having meaningful relationships, and getting together with others in positive ways has the same effect on our brains as antidepressant medication. Call a friend. Go for coffee.

Heck…go for a brisk walk outside with a friend/cousin/co-worker, with a high fibre bar and get’em all done at once. 😉

Sure…I know I’m preaching to the choir here…the above is no surprise to the vast majority of Joe Q. Public who knows these things. But actually implementing them, when the chocolate chip cookies and couch in front of the TV are both calling your name persistently…not so easy. Just like knowing the four food groups doesn’t automatically mean a person eats well. To know something and do something…2 different things.

So…I found a secret weapon…and it’s working well for me. My own little light box:

Light can positively affect mood during winter when the light is low, affecting Seasonal Affective Disorder.

As I drink my morning tea and deal with my morning emails, I have my new little friend off to the side shining it’s bright rays from the periphery into my eyes for 20 minutes. Within about 3 days, I was able to hear the cookies call my name and say, “No thanx”…within a week, their voices got quieter…and while they still call, “Carolyn, Carolyn”, I am able to decide…and most of the time I say, “no”…and when I say yes, I have one, and enjoy it thoroughly. I’m more regular with getting out to run. I don’t feel as “draggish” during the day. I wouldn’t say that this winter is “easy” for me, but it is definitely a significant improvement over other years.

Twas funny when, the other day, I was complimenting myself to Melanie, marveling at my recently improved ability to stay on top of my paperwork/administration. I often have this cloud of undone things hanging over my head…and I’d been getting at it much better recently. She reminded me of my little but powerful light…and I realized that it had started getting better shortly after I had started using it regularly…a side benefit that I hadn’t counted on or could have predicted. (But I’ll take it!!)

We need to work at creating hope wherever we can
. I have “hope” hanging up on my Christmas tree…we as human beings crave hope. Hope gives us reason to move forward. The darkness of today, of this season can put a damper on hope. Many other reasons this season can make hope hard for blog readers, each with their own story. The above strategies don’t make it all better…but they can give some hope to help cope.

The light box is working well for me…I was a skeptic before I tried it, but I was looking for something that would give hope during a season when hope is bleak.
It can be hard to find hope in December, a difficult time at Christmas, and with seasonal affective disorder in Winnipeg because of our low levels of light.
May you find reason to hope this season…a season of hope in the darkness of the winter, maybe in a dark winter of your life. May you find ways of creating hope in creative ways that work for you.

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