When I was in school, we called the time between Christmas and Spring Break “The Dark Ages.”  And it is dark.  The sun is gone.  It’s cold.   Everyone just kind of hunkers down and waits for spring.  Hibernation starts to make a lot of sense.

The reality is that these days can be legitimately dark.  The lack of sunlight and normal time cues can mess up your internal clock so much that it leads to depression.  The medical minds have even given it a terrible acronym – SAD.   Seasonal Affective Disorder (cue the “wa wa” and a frowny face).  Despite the dopey name, I have witnessed the effects of extended periods of cold darkness.   It is bad.  Here are some of the symptoms:

  • Irritability
  • Problems being social
  • Hypersensitivity to rejection
  • Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
  • Sleep but still tired
  • Unusual craving for foods high in carbohydrates (pasta, bread)
  • Ensuing Weight gain

In the North West everyone just draws up, drinks coffee and reads/programs extensively.  That wears thin as does your stomach lining.   After a few weeks it feels like someone has opened the drain on your energy.  Nothing seems to help.  The desire to crawl into a cave until June gets very strong.

When we lived in Spokane Washington (very dark and very cold) I learned a few things to help weather the Dark Ages:

  1. Stick to a routine.  Get up, eat, work, exercise and go to bed at about the same time everyday.  Even when you don’t have to, do it anyway.  This helps stabilize your circadian rhythm despite the lack of light cues.
  2. Get outside whenever you can.  Especially when there is sunlight.  Even just sitting by a window can help, but get out in it whenever the weather will allow.  Even just a short walk can reboot your energy.
  3. Make something to look forward to.  Start out a new hobby, project or program: This is when I started doing yoga.  Plan a vacation.  Even just a long weekend away from the house will help create milestones.
  4. Take it easy on the alcohol and heavy comfort food.  This stuff feels good in the short term but drags down your energy levels and metabolism.
  5. EXERCISE.  “Stay on Target.”  Keep up with your workouts even if it is just for maintenance.  The energy, confidence and chemistry you get from exercise is critical to keeping your mood afloat.

This stuff can definitely help.  But if it the depression persist for more than 4 or 5 days or you start thinking about suicide, talk to a doctor.  There are other non-pharmaceutical things you can do.  

Therapeutic lights simulate the sun.  A few minutes every day with these things really helps.  This give you a great reason to check out of terrible meetings to take a “light break”.

The Dark Ages don’t have to be.  A few minor tweeks to help keep you on track can make all the difference.