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How to Deal with the Darkness: Surviving the Time Change



 Not sure about ya'll, but I'm feeling the effects of Daylight Savings Time coming to an end! I bet you are, too. The other day, I started seeing clients at 10 am, and I swear I looked at the clock assuming it was 2 pm, only to find it was 11:30. Three days out of the week, I work pretty late into the evening, so I'm used to it being dark when I leave. But during my early days, when I head home, it's pitch black outside! Miss you, sunshine. πŸ’”πŸ’”πŸ’”

Daylight Savings Time, and when it ends in the fall/winter months, has a profound effect on our circadian rhythm (read: our body's internal clock that's always running in the background). When our circadian rhythm gets disrupted, we feel it by having difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking early. We might even experience lower quality sleep. The whole circadian rhythm thing also affects our appetite and our mood. This is because less exposure to sunlight causes a dip in serotonin (feel good b
rain chemical) and a peak in melatonin (sleepy brain chemical). Result: sluggish and depressed. Sound familiar to my Season Depressive folks? It's a rough time, for sure. 

Yes, it's just an hour. But even the slightest tweak in our circadian rhythm makes our bodies feel a bit zonked and out of balance. It takes some time to adjust. 

Here's a few tips to help you survive:

1. Back to Basics: Move your body, Add gentle nutrition, and stay hydrated

Anytime life gets hectic, I always come back to the basics. Find a way to move your body that is fun and feels good to you. Dance in your kitchen, do some yoga, bundle up and take the dog for a stroll, hula hoop, whatever kind of movement brings you a little bit of joy. Exercise pumps up those feel good chemicals in our brain, which takes a dip when it gets dark earlier.

 Add fruits and vegetables to your meals and snacks. Don't stop enjoying what you love- I would never, ever tell you that. But add some spicy fajita veggies to your burrito,  or chopped banana to your cereal, for example. Find ways to slip in some gentle nutrition, which will help support the health of our brains and nervous systems. 

Don't forget to drink more water! Staying hydrated helps our brain function adequately, which will help when we're navigating the adjustment of the time change. 

2. Have a solid bedtime and morning routine

Bedtime and morning routines are a big deal. They help us feel a little bit of stability in our lives, especially when things get chaotic. They help prepare our bodies for rest and sleep, and also to wake and get going. It helps our brains know what to expect, and therefore feel a little more stable and calm. 

I always tell people that the world could be falling apart around me and I will still do my skincare routine. πŸ’†It's one thing I look forward to every morning and evening that I know will happen no matter what is going on in my life. It's almost like a security blanket-if everything else is uncertain, I know for sure that I'll still be breaking out the jade roller later tonight. Find a routine that is your own, and let nothing stand in the way. 

3. Take advantage of the sunlight when it's out

Research shows that going for a walk in the morning sunlight during winter months is more effective than any sun lamp on the market (we'll discuss sun lamps in a bit). Taking advantage of the natural sunlight when you can is super important. Open a window, walk the dog around the block, put your sunroof cover open on your drives, or just stand outside in the crisp fall/winter air in the morning for a few minutes. It's not the same as the sweet summer sunshine, but it does the trick. 

4. Have something to look forward to

Planning something to look forward to is one way to lift your spirits if you're getting cabin fever during the dark, cold, winter months. It can be something small, like a dinner with friends, or a zoom call with out of town family. Maybe there's a craft or new hobby you are looking forward to starting. Or, it can be something big: planning a summer vacation or road trip, planning a house project, or making a fall/winter bucket list. Having something to look forward to gives us hope for brighter days, both figuratively and literally. 

5. Try a sun lamp

Sun lamps are medical devices that simulate sunlight. They are often used to treat seasonal affective disorder, but have been shown to improve general depression symptoms as well. However, not all sun lamps are clinically shown to provide these benefits. Look for a sun lamp with these two important specs: 10,000 lux and at least 15x12" display. Research shows that sun lamps with these specific features provide the most effective symptom reduction. Be sure to chat with your doctor about using a sun lamp if you're going to try this route. They are, in fact, medical devices. 

6. Embrace it!

Despite missing the summer sun and the sense of knowing if it's 6 pm or 9 pm by looking outside, I have to say that there is something cozy about the fall and winter. If you're up for it, try embracing the quiet quality of the darkness by lighting a fall or winter scented candle, cuddling up on the couch with a soft, fuzzy blanket and your warm, snuggly pet, and read a book or watch a seasonal movie or tv show. If all else fails, surrender to the stillness of autumn and winter. 

Hope this is helpful stuff! Don't forget to talk with your mental health professional about more ways that you can cope with the time change. Remember: the darkness is only temporary; brighter days are ahead. 

 

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