Some Light on the Darker Season
by Prof. Rozalind A Gruben
There is still a
chill in the air at dusk here in England. The sun hangs low in the sky, the trees seem to
'hold their breath' as the sun slides into her afternoon bed.
For some of you the days are warm and sunny but for
many readers the dark and cold days are still your reality. If you are living in a part of
the world where a lack of sunlight is getting you down - read on.
What do the winter and early spring months mean for
you, the prospect of skiing trips, mulled wine, festive delights and log fires? Are your
memories of March filled with lack lustre health, dry skin, shivering bathroom experiences
and yet more gained weight as you fight against the cold? How you experience the remainder
of this winter is up to you. All it takes is shift in attitude, a little bit of know how,
a handful of preparation and a pinch of humour to transform your March experience into one
of joyous vitality!
It has been scientifically proven that sunlight is
as important to our health as oxygen and water. A lack of natural light causes biochemical
imbalances in the hypothalamus (a small region of the brain situated between the two
hemispheres). The hypothalamus is a key player throughout nervous functioning. It
facilitates communications between the central and autonomic systems, as well as linking
them to the hormone producing glands.
The human organism runs in accordance with a
biological clock, which dictates different physiological functions at specific times
during each 24-hour period. It is affected by light and is known as the circadian cycle.
When insufficient levels of natural light enter the eyes during the daytime it disrupts
these circadian rhythms. This is primarily because natural sunlight suppresses a hormone
called melatonin, which has powerful influences upon mood and energy levels. It also
affects the serotonin level, which is involved with functions of the nervous system, and
regulates the appetite. For these reasons it is not uncommon for people to feel 'down in
the dumps' during the winter with its short daylight hours and overcast days. The
culmination of all these physiological disruptions can result in a variety of symptoms
Disturbed sleep patterns · Difficulty waking up in
the morning · Difficulty staying awake during the day · Apathy · Lack of interest in
social contact · Lowered sexual desire · Loss of self esteem · Depression, guilt and
despair · Irritability · Anxiousness · Comfort eating · Reduced metabolic rate ·
Increases in body fat due to the above two factors
In the UK, one in five people experience profound
bouts of insomnia, low moods and desires to comfort eat during the winter months. One
person in every twenty suffers so badly that they seek psychiatric help and 50% of these
experience suicidal feelings.
Records of people experiencing such severe winter
doldrums go back well into our history. The US National Institute of Mental Health
discovered theproblem in 1978, but it was not until the findings of a Dr Norman Rosenthal
were published that it received recognition.
Dr. Rosenthal observed that sufferers seemed to
respond to changes in latitude and longitude. In parts of the world where daylight hours
were shorter symptoms became more severe. He reported that:
'The Washington patient who gets worse after a spell
in Canada (further north) recovers and gets better after a period in Bermuda'.
Rosenthals findings were reinforced by a colleague
of his at the US National Institute of Mental Health, Dr. Peter S Muller. Dr. Muller had
one patient suffering severe symptoms who demonstrated a remarkable recovery after just
two days in Jamaica.
In 1984 the disorder was officially recognised by
the medical profession and given the name of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). In
psychiatric terms 'affect' means mood. Affective disorders are a major category of illness
whereby mood is affected. As with most mood related disorders, there exists a range of
degrees from the subtlest of symptoms to severe manifestations of the problem. The milder
forms of SAD are referred to as 'Sub-Syndromal SAD'.
Although SAD can occur anytime from September to
April it is more prevalent during the months of December, January and February.
Scandinavians have an even harder time of it than us with their shorter daylight hours, so
planning a skiing trip to Norway isn't going to help! Medical professionals will only give
a clinical diagnosis if the patient reported symptoms over three consecutive winters,
having recovered during the summer months! So consider this before you rush off and
proudly label yourself as a SAD sufferer, in the hope that your loved ones will whisk you
off for a tropical winter break!
Psychiatric drugs have proven to be ineffective in
suppressing the symptoms of SAD. The best you can do, other than move to another part of
the world during the winter, is to maximise the amount of natural light you secure each
Light is not natural (full spectrum) if filtered
through windows, spectacles or contact lenses. Remember that sunlight needs to directly
penetrate the eyes to be effective. This also has implications for those who fear for
their reputation should they appear in public without their Hollywood 'bins'! Wearing
sunglasses when there is powerful glare, such as when spending time amongst snow or in
certain driving conditions, is recommended. The inappropriate regular use of tinted eye
cover as a fashion item is an unhealthy habit.
Tips for securing your sunlight quota:
1) Spend as much time outdoors as possible during
2) Avoid unnecessary use of sunglasses
3) Re-arrange your living space so that rooms/areas
that you use in the mornings face east and those you frequent in the evening face west.
4) Sit by opened windows when you are unable to be
outside (an extra jumper makes all the difference)
5) Replace the light bulbs in your living space, and
where possible work area, with full spectrum bulbs or tubes.
6) Avoid late nights and late starts in the morning;
maximise your time spent awake during daylight hours
7) Use mirrors to create more light in poky corners
and hallways of your living and work areas
9) Choose bright colours in your decor - avoid dowdy
or dark shades
10) Seek out pictures of bright sunny landscapes and
adorn your walls with them
WISE-UP TO MARCH
Our bodies are under constant attack from
environmental pollutants and never more so than during the winter and early spring months.
People's homes are reputed to be amongst the most toxic places on earth, especially as we
withdraw into them away from the nip of Jack frost. The increase in pollution is due to a
number of factors including the following:
· Windows are not only kept shut but also often
sealed to stop even traces of circulating air from entering the home or workplace.
· Heating is turned on creating toxic gases
· Greater quantities of hairsprays are used to
control wind-blown hair
· More winter than summer clothes require
dry-cleaning which then hold powerful toxic chemicals in their fabric
· The TV is on more of the time producing
radiation and noise pollution
· Laundry is hung up indoors instead of outside
filling the place with fumes from washing powders and bleaches
To be winter-wise involves increased environmental
awareness. If you want to build health throughout the spring months you can help yourself
1) Put on an extra jumper and fling open all the
windows for at least an hour each day. Although the outside air may be polluted it is
better to have circulating air than static air. Early in the morning is the best time,
before your neighbours start up their cars and top-up the atmospheric pollution. 2) Rather
than turn on the heating take bouts of physical activity throughout the day to raise your
body temperature. It saves on heating bills, reduces pollution and keeps you fit! Running
up and down the stairs until you've raised a sweat will keep you toasty for a considerable
time afterwards. 3) Eat raw. You will save money on fuel, reduce toxic fumes in the home
and provide yourself with superior nutrition. 4) Minimise the use of products such as
unnecessary toiletries and cosmetics. Deodorant sprays are one of the greatest
home-pollutants. Instead of hairspray go for a style of cut that falls into place easily.
5) Many clothes said to require dry cleaning would survive very well on a machine's gentle
wool wash. Those that won't - give them to a good cause or reserve them for special
occasions only. 6) Exchange time spent watching TV for snuggling down with a good book. By
the end of the month you could have learnt a new skill, doubled your general knowledge,
learned a language or taken giant steps forward in areas of personal development. 7) Use
less washing powder than the manufacturers would have you believe is needed. You may be
surprised what a small amount is effective. Use non-chlorine bleach and hang laundry
outside whenever the weather permits.
REJUVENATE NOT HIBERNATE
Go out, go out I beg of you And taste the beauty of
the wild. Behold the miracle of the earth With all the wonder of a child
- Edna Jaques
Lack of exercise, overeating and environmental
pollution pave the way to sickness, lethargy and depression. Why not take a different path
this spring? Plan time playing outdoors in the countryside or park. Take the kids, the dog
or just yourself and have some adventures. Rather than shying away from March's cool
ambiance decide to appreciate the beauty all around. Make it a rule to 'earn' each meal
with physical activity. Just briskly walking round the block will promote your
circulation, boost your lymphatic functioning, improve your digestion, better oxygenate
your cells and rejuvenate your spirits.
A WINNING ATTITUDE
It is said that a miracle is simply a shift in
perception. You have the choice to see this time of year as a time of gloom and doom, or
you can look upon each day as a new opportunity to appreciate the majesty of nature's
cycles. Get out there and create your March miracle!
Best Healthful Wishes,
Your friends at Healthful Living International
This article is courtesy of Healthful Living International and Rozalind