When daylight saving time has us turning our clocks back on Sunday, November 7, the sun will set at 4:44 p.m. For the next six weeks, the days will only get shorter. On the shortest day of the year, December 21, the sun will shine nearly six hours less than on the longest day of the year, June 20. These short, gray days can take a toll on our spirits. But they don᾿t have to. Battle the blues with the following ideas to help brighten the months ahead.
THINK OF FOOD AS MEDICINE
Feeling physically good is key when the darker days make us lethargic. We all look forward to a little winter comfort food and carb-loading; but food is medicine, so make sure you’re balancing those winter treats with lots of fruits and vegetables. Having a rainbow on your plate is super important—even in the winter months, there are plenty of colorful options in the produce aisle.
SOAK UP SOME RAYS
Many studies show vitamin D plays an integral role in physical and mental health. Our body creates vitamin D from direct sunlight on our skin. Make sure to schedule some daily outdoor time to soak up the rays.
At your next physical, ask your healthcare provider to check your vitamin D levels, as many Americans have low levels. The best way to get vitamin D is through sunshine, but that can be challenging at this time of the year. Eating red meat, certain fish, egg yolks and vitamin-fortified foods are all ways to get more of the vitamin in your diet. If your levels are low, look for a supplement. My favorite, Here Comes the Sun by Hum is available online and at most Sephora stores.
CREATE YOUR OWN SUNSHINE
Serotonin levels, the chemical in our brains related to happiness, tend to be at their lowest in winter. People who live in the northernmost places that see little winter sun have a variety of ways to cope. Some northern Europeans schedule hourlong midday breaks from work to engage in outdoor activities. Otherwise they’d be going to work and returning home in the dark.
If you can’t regularly get natural light, consider light therapy. Northern Europeans have used light therapy to combat seasonal affective disorder (SAD) for years. Swedes use light therapy clinics as an alternative to antidepressants, visiting the light-filled rooms to recharge. You can also try light therapy at home. There are plenty of different lights on the market with varying degrees of brightness. Kickstarting your day in front of a light box can be a real mood booster—sit for about thirty minutes to feel the effects. It’s also a great opportunity to set aside time to listen to an audiobook, podcast or meditate.
Look for a light box with at least 10,000 lumens of light. VeriLite Happy Lite Lux has 10,000 lumens and starts at just $39 on Amazon and Bed Bath & Beyond. Light boxes are designed to filter out most UV light so they are safe for your skin and eyes, but ask your dermatologist or eye doctor for recommendations.
GET OUTDOORS AND STAY ACTIVE
It’s easy to want to hibernate when it’s cold. And last winter we all had good reason to stay home. If you’ve still got FOGO (Fear of Going Out), you don’t need to be with the masses to get fresh air. Walking, hiking, skiing (cross-country or downhill) are all great options. Some German health insurances even cover programs where people are encouraged to spend time forest- bathing, called waldbaden. Simply put, it’s time walking alone in the solitude of the woods to rejuvenate. Incorporating a walk through the Mianus River Park or any natural setting can be calming and restorative.
Plan a trip somewhere sunny and warm enough to wear short sleeves. Whether it’s just a weekend or a whole week with your toes in the sand, a Southern vacation between now and March should be on your list. In addition to the obvious disposition boost of a few days in the sun, the act of planning a trip gives you something to look forward to. Seeing a beach trip on the calendar will lift everyone’s spirits. And don’t forget about the afterglow.
CREATE A FLORIDA ROOM
No, you don’t have to go so far as to build a glass conservatory at the back of your house. But creating a little space to take a temporary vacation in your own home is easier than you may think. Some people have a mediation corner. I suggest a sunshine spot. Go small and find a space you can spend time by a window. You won’t absorb vitamin D through a window, but natural light is a mood lifter. Fill your space with other sun-spiration like a candle with a citrus scent. The leaves may have dropped on the trees outside, but inside you can surround yourself with greens like ferns, figs and fiddle plants from McArdle’s or Home Depot. Perch beneath an indoor palm tree. Go all out and take a spot in a spare bedroom to create your own favorite beach view. Transport yourself for a few minutes to Fiji with a removable peel-and-stick wall mural from Amazon for less than $60. Pull out a beach chair from the garage, crank up a space heater, and for a few minutes you᾽re on your own sunny beach, no matter what the thermometer reads outside.
TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR
There is a difference between the winter blues and seasonal affective disorder. Many of us feel sluggish in the winter, but if your sadness is becoming hard to manage, tell your doctor. SAD is a real psychological condition affecting millions of Americans, and your doctor will have advice for how to manage it.
Yes, the sun will come out tomorrow, but winters can be long so don’t suffer needlessly or in silence. Call your healthcare provider and ask for help.