Many people can’t wait for the crisp, cold days of winter. Those of us who ski can’t wait to hit the slopes. Children scream with delight when a snow day means sledding instead of studying. We look forward to snuggling up on the couch with a good movie and a steaming cup of hot chocolate at the end of the day.
But, for many, what winter brings is the blues.
A dark few months where we commute to work in the dark and make the return trip back home in the dark as well. The darkness seems to creep up upon us unseen and enter the psyche via our pores. Some just feel a bit more tired, less excited about things – others struggle to drum up enough energy to make it through the day. It is as if someone hit the dimmer switch on life. The lightness of the holidays can serve as a welcome distraction; however, many plunge into deeper lethargy and, often, serious depression.
Psychologists have a term for those of us who experience depression on a seasonal basis. Not surprisingly, this is called, “Seasonal Affective Disorder.” This term is used to diagnose people who regularly become depressed during specific seasons. While there are those who do become seasonally depressed during the spring and/or summer, it is much more common to become depressed during the winter.
Depression during the winter months can be mild or debilitating. People who experience deep, paralyzing depression should seek assistance and advice of a mental health professional. However, even those who suffer from a mild case of the doldrums during the winter can benefit from understanding the science of depression, as well effective methods designed to overcome the depression that seems to start in the fall when we set our clocks back and recede when we “spring forward.”
Watch this video for more information on the power of a neutral mind and quantum jumping
>>> Like Burt’s video? Sign up for the his Quantum Jumping free lessons and learn more
Daylight and Depression
“Daylight Savings Time” is a good place to start when discussing SADS. Changing our “clocks” to increase the amount of daylight experienced during waking hours is nothing new. For instance, farmers did so for centuries before clocks were even in use by starting work at sun up and ending their work day when darkness set in. Around World War One many countries began formalized daylight savings time in an effort to save fuel (energy.)
However, in the United States the effort to add an extra hour of daylight began well before the U.S. entered WWI. An extra hour of daylight would mean an extra hour of daylight to shop, attend sporting events, or enjoy oneself at Coney Island Amusement park. In 1917 Congress passed daylight savings time into law by promoting it as a means to “mobilize an extra hour of daylight and help win the war.” – but not without objection.
What is interesting when reviewing the history of daylight savings time are the themes of “saving energy” and “doing more”, especially when people seem to suffer a lack of energy and experience lethargy that results in doing less during the dark winter months. And yet, even if we did not institutionalize the practice of daylight savings time in the U.S., this would not eliminate SADS or even the mild depression suffered by millions during the winter. And the reason for this is the astronomical fact that there are shorter periods of daylight during the winter months – no matter how we set our clocks.
Light Is energy – and there is less of it in the winter
Whether you live NYC or LA – the days are shorter in winter. Our bodies react to less light by producing less serotonin and more melatonin. Both of these are hormones which act as neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are the body’s messengers, bringing information and instructions to every cell in our bodies – including our brains. Melotonin and serotonin are both produced by the pineal gland. Melatonin induces sleep while serotonin plays a much more complex role. Serotonin influences most every cell in our brains and we have approximately 40 million brain cells.
The brain cells that serotonin sends messages too affects a wide variety of activities including sexual attraction, appetite, sleep, memory – and our mood.
But what does shorter days have to do with neurotransmitters? Remember that the pineal gland produces melatonin and serotonin. However, the pineal gland is controlled by the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus also controls something called our “circadian rhythms”, or the rhythm of our body’s (including our brain’s) response to periods of lightness and darkness.
We experience less daylight in the winter. Serotonin is produced during daylight hours, Therefore, we produce less serotonin during the winter months. While it is not completely understood, there appears to be a causal link between low levels of serotonin and experiencing depression.
It stands to reason that exposing ourselves to more hours of light during the winter can assist in overcoming depression. However, this must be “full spectrum” light, which simply means the light of the sun – and glass blocks full spectrum light. Most of us spend the winter behind glass. We are behind glass when we drive, in our offices, in our homes. Additionally, corrective eyeglasses and contact lenses, as well as sunglasses block full spectrum light.
Optimally, we should expose ourselves to direct sunlight for about 30 minutes a day. This does not mean you have to stand in direct sun, sitting in the shade on a sunny day (no matter what the air temperature) will provide the necessary stimulation to the pineal gland to produce serotonin. If it is not possible to receive natural full spectrum light, there are fluorescent full spectrum light bulbs available commercially. However, when using these bulbs that 30 minute exposure requirement becomes six hours.
Alternative medicine also offers methods for light therapy that many have found to be quite effective to add to their tool box for overcoming depression. For instance, forms of Eastern medicine treat the major chakras (energy centers) of the body. Specific chakras are said to absorb specific vibrations of light. Visualization can also be very useful. For instance, visualizing being surrounded by natural, full spectrum light in a particularly pleasant environment, is another alternative light therapy.