Today is winter solstice, the day with the smallest number of daylight hours in the year. After today, the days gradually will start getting longer, giving us an extra minute or two each day of sunlight until we reach the longest day at summer solstice in June. Our part of the planet is turned its furthest away from the sun, and this is when the coldest temperatures begin. I thought about that as I (grumbling) scraped ice off my car this morning for the first time this season, and the temperature gauge read 32 degrees. This is the body’s hunker down season.
Here in Portland, we don’t get many sunny days over the winter months, and a lot of folks experience some level of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — a type of depression that’s typically tied to the seasons with shorter days. SAD can make you sleep a lot, feel like you have no energy, moody, crave carbohydrates, gain weight, and generally experience all the symptoms of depression. In fact, in the latest DSM, they stopped classifying SAD as its own disorder altogether, and instead they now add a qualifier of “with seasonal pattern” to diagnoses of depression or bipolar disorder. Along with the depression, many people also experience anxiety symptoms. Any way you slice it, it sucks.
Light therapy using a light box can help. The idea is that you sit near a high-intensity light for 20-30 minutes each morning and it helps regulate your circadian rhythm. I started using a light box last year, and it has really helped. I have a small one that uses LEDs and doesn’t take up much room, so that I can take it with me if I travel or am late getting out of the house. This is the one I have: Sphere Gadget Technologies Lightphoria, 10,000 Lux Energy Light Lamp.
Acupuncture can also help. Some people come in when they’re feeling overwhelmed by the heaviness, to get some relief. Getting that instant rush of relaxation is nothing to sneeze at — if you’re feeling overwhelmed, come on in! For me, like a lot of people, it’s harder to motivate myself to do things for self-care if I’m already in a pit of overwhelm, so I tend to favor prevention if it’s possible. I’ve found that getting acupuncture once a week during the dark season smooths out and dials down the depression and anxiety symptoms and makes it a lot more manageable.
If you suffer from seasonal depression, you’re not alone, and there are many things that can help. Come in for an acunap, try a light box, talk to a therapist or a friend, get some exercise, snuggle your cats and dogs, see a doctor about possible medication… there are a lot of options, and whichever options work for you are the right ones.