Sunday, November 7, 2010
Unless you live near the equator, the length of days changes drastically during the year. In my hometown of New York, they peak at around 15 hours in June and shorten to 9+ hours in December. (In LA, it only ranges from 14-1/2 to 10, while in northern Scotland, the source of my genetic stock, the swing is from 18 to 6-1/2.)
Some people, without question, are debilitated by seasonal affective disorder; the reduced sunlight triggers their predisposition to depression in an extreme way and they suffer. For them, it’s entirely appropriate to look to mitigate the issue with light therapy and other focused treatments.
Dealing with the end of DST
For each of the three nights, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, set your sleep routine back 20 minutes, so that when you wake up on Sunday morning after the time shift it will be at your normal time.
Make an extra effort those days to eat healthy food that won’t affect your sleep
Attend to any other health routines you have so that you are as fit as possible to absorb the impact of the change
Dealing with the shorter days of winter
Get outdoors for lunch, at least to go get it and bring it back, so you see at least some sunlight. I suggested going out for lunch in my column on getting outdoors in the summer; it’s all the more important now.
Leave window coverings open if practical to let in as much light as possible.
Embrace the season. Plan for more contemplative time; enjoy the slower pace instead of fighting it or feeling guilty for wanting to do less.
Take advantage of Advent, a traditional way of entering the winter season with reflection and contemplation.
Read a quiet spiritual book such as Thérèse of Lisieux’s The Story of a Soul or Kathleen Norris’s The Cloister Walk.
Take a hike in the woods.
Consider a silent retreat.
A time for introspection
For the rest of us, when the days are shorter, the sunlight is less direct and the air is cold, you are supposed to want to do less, sleep more, gain a little weight. A friend in Maine, where they know a few things about dealing with winter, says, “Maybe winter is a time for introspection. Fighting that, we can feel depressed.” It is by expecting our usual level of energy and productivity that we get down on ourselves and feed into a slothful negative spiral. It’s just common sense that when there’s less sunlight people tend to have less energy and adopt a quieter, slower pace. Don’t fight that. Work with it.
Nevertheless, there are things you can do to make the best of the season. Most of the advice for dealing with SAD that Therese Borchard offers over at Beliefnet is good for everyone in wintertime. For example, she recommends getting outdoors in what sun there is whenever possible. (I actually prefer the winter for hiking in the woods — the air is crisp and fresh, you don’t sweat and as you quiet down with your surroundings you realize nature’s much more active than you first thought.) Go outside for lunch, at least to get it and bring it back, so you see at least a little sunlight. I suggested going out for lunch in my column on getting outdoors in the summer; it’s all the more important now. Or at least go for a brisk 10-minute walk each day. I just encourage you to see these things as taking care of yourself, rather than as fixing a disorder.
If you didn’t take my suggestion to use the summer months to go on a retreat, maybe this winter is the time. Or just build more reflective time into the day at home. Curl up and read a good book, perhaps a quiet spiritual one you’ve always meant to read: say, Thérèse of Lisieux’s classic The Story of a Soul (Histoire d’une Ame), or the Kathleen Norris memoir, The Cloister Walk. Respect the slower rhythms. And really explore Advent this year! When I converted to Catholicism, I was fascinated and delighted by Advent. I’ll write more about it soon, but it is a traditional way of entering the winter season with reflection and contemplation; shifting gears, as we should.
Standard advice for dealing with jet lag applies equally well to the coming time change. Shift your sleeping routine by 20 minutes each day for the three days prior to November 7, so, when the clock is moved back, you’ll wake up comfortably that Sunday morning at your usual time. This doesn’t erase the problem, but it softens the blow. Also, eat a healthy diet, and attend to any of your other routines, so you’re as fit as possible heading into the change.