With the clocks going back next week, we’re bracing for the dark days of winter ahead. While a late afternoon sunset and seemingly constant cloud or rain can be a bit of a buzz kill, there are a few ways that we can navigate the darkness to support our mood and keep our spirits lifted. Below are five ways to work with the darker days of Autumn + Winter.
Get outside first thing
While evenings will start to feel really long with the fall back of the clocks, we’ll gain some sunlight in the morning. One of the BEST things you can do for your mood, sleep, immune system, hormones, pretty much every aspect of your health, is to have sunlight hit your eyes at sunrise. While it may feel almost too simple, it has a tremendous impact on our functioning for the rest of the day and the quality of our sleep. All you need is 3-5 minutes of exposure, without sunglasses or contact lenses, and it has to be direct, aka doesn’t count looking through a window. The type of light that hits our retina at sunrise signals a cascade of instructions for our body to regulate our circadian rhythm. It’s like pressing start, or turning the key into the lock, on our entire system. It signals the production and release of pregnedalone, which can be converted into cortisol for wakefulness and morning energy, hormones like progesterone and estrogen, DHEA, or testosterone. And yes, these rays will reach your eyeballs even on a cloudy, rainy morning. Integrate this small but powerful shift daily by taking the dog out and taking pause to look up at the sky, throw on your cozies and take a few sips of your coffee on your balcony or front/back lawn, walk to work or even just the bus stop, etc.
Invest in a Happy Light or Infrared Light
While sunlight is our number one source of healing light energy, a Happy Light, also known as a SAD lamp (thanks to its ability to help reduce Seasonal Affective Disorder) can be a great addition to cloudy days. While it won’t promote the synthesis of vitamin D like sun exposure, it can promote a better mood and wakefulness, especially when turned on for 10-30 minutes in the morning while you get ready, have your coffee, meditate, etc. It works by exposing your eyes to a high lux, which is a brightness measure of light. For context, the lux of the sun on a bright, sunny day is between 10,000-25,000, while a Happy Light emits around 10,000 lux. Red light therapy is also showing promising potential to help ease depression. Infrared and Near infrared light penetrates deep into our tissues and brain and affects our mitochondria, which can help with ATP (energy) production, reduce inflammation, and also supports collagen production.
Consume adequate vitamin D
Vitamin D plays an integral role in regulating mood (as well as bone health, preventing cancer and supporting the immune system). We absorb it best via sunlight penetrating our skin with the help of cholesterol (just another reason why cholesterol, contrary to popular belief, is very very important!). This is something I recommend most folks supplement with all year around, unless you’re really prioritizing full body sun exposure in the summer days. I would say all of us living in the PNW climate can benefit from vitamin D supplementation during the fall/winter season. Vitamin D is best taken in a fat soluble liquid form to promote absorption, and because many generic brand tablets contain questionable fillers and dyes. If you can find one formulated with vitamin K2, that’s even better. You can take liquid vitamin D under the tongue, with or without food, and anywhere between 1000IU and 5000IU daily works for most people. You can also get your vitamin D levels tested, though it does cost around $60-70. It’s worth noting that vitamin K, magnesium and zinc all help with vitamin D absorption, so make sure you’re getting adequate amounts of these vitamins and minerals through food and potentially a multivitamin (especially if you are plant-based!). You can also acquire vitamin D from foods like seafood, high-quality organic dairy, liver and egg yolks, and of course the sun if you’re lucky enough to getaway in the winter months!
Embrace the concept of “wintering”
Author Katherine May speaks of the concept of embracing the ‘sadness’ of winter through the process of Wintering; taking time to get cozy, slow down, hibernate and surrender to the full spectrum of our emotions. While her concept can be experienced at any time of the year, it feels particularly fitting for the darker days of winter. A time to drop pressure to do all of the things, and instead go inside and get quiet. You can learn more about Wintering here, or listen to a beautiful On Being episode with Krista Tippett and Katherine May here.
When the sun shines…GET OUTSIDE
Yes, there’s going to be many cloudy and rainy days ahead of us, but there will be days of sunshine sprinkled in. On those days, do your best to get outside, without glasses, roll up your sleeves and soak up those rays. Take your meeting or coffee for a walk, eat your lunch on a patio, go for a run, walk the dog…embrace it! In fact, bundling up on an overcast day and getting outside for a couple of hours between 10-2pm will make a difference, too. You can download an app called Dminder to see what kind of sun exposure (UV) you’re able to get on any particular day by inputting your location.
One of the benefits of these shorter days is people typically tend to sleep longer and have a higher quality sleep thanks to the cooler temperatures of winter. Embrace the cozy, get outside first thing, make the most of blue bird days and prioritize vitamin D foods and supplementation. Oh, and if you’re feeling particularly down, a reminder that it too shall pass. Winter will always turn to Spring. Embrace these darker days as a period of rest and reflection – which times perfectly with Eclipse Season.