The star on a Christmas tree, the candles of a Menorah, a Solstice bonfire celebration – winter holidays celebrate with light. Selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors and vitamin D issues aside – I am keenly mindful of the importance of LIGHT in my world.
Here in the Pacific northwest the wan winter sun has been out the past several days and oh, what a difference it makes. Temperatures are cold; we’ve finally had our first serious frost. The sun rises barely in time for the day and all too soon ebbs down again. Windchill forces shoulders up and caves our chest as if to protect a tiny flame of warmth in our core. Sun or no sun, I’m trying to get out for a brisk walk everyday to fend off seasonal sluggishness brought on by the dark.
In an excerpt from an article I wrote for the NW edition of Angie’s List Magazine last February:
Studies have shown that more than 30 percent of folks living in northern latitudes (read: us!) suffer under this emotional dark cloud compared to less than 5 percent of the population in sunny southern regions.
SAD is a form of depression triggered by winter’s shortened daylight hours. Symptoms vary in severity, and generally include a marked slump in energy, mood and motivation which can affect self-esteem and leave you feeling isolated, lonely and, well, sad.
Oh how I would prefer to nap. The dark and sleep join hands in a siren call of lethargy as I succumb to this season of dormancy and hibernation. Instead I haul myself up the hill to collect sticky pine cones or ask to be dropped off a mile or so away, attend to a few errands and walk home.
The cure: light. Literally, go outdoors — rain or shine. Even 30 minutes of daylight exposure is enough to counteract the dispiriting effects of our long winter nights. Take a walk or putter in the garden; mild exercise boosts endorphins and activates the brain to further alleviate depressive symptoms, even though it can be tough to launch ourselves into the cold and rain each morning.
I’m not much for routine constitutionals – I need a destination or purpose to my wandering. Either that or a stack of magazines for the treadmill. But once I’m out of the house I find myself entranced by some of the most subtle beauty of the gardening year. Architectural silhouettes of graceful evergreens loom in the spare landscape and colorful stems of willow, shrubby dogwood and Japanese kerria gleam in the pale winter light. Ornamental grasses and dried summer perennials sway in place, barometers of frost, wind and rain as they serve up a feast of seed heads for fidgety little birds.
Our clear and cold weather is forecast to last through the coming weekend. Today I think I’ll bundle up and head outside to cut some boughs for the mantle and gather bay leaves for the customary wreaths I make each year for friends and family. While I’m out there I might even do a little clean up, raking and fussing about. Once lured out into the winter light it’s easy to get absorbed in garden chores – and critical to staying warm. Who knows, the weak yet energizing winter light might even inspire me to begin my holiday baking and candy making. Then I’ll really need those daily hikes.
My parent were right – “Go Outside, it’s a nice day.” To read my entire article go here.