What was amusing in its newness on Sunday, and was dismissible as "rainy day gloom" on Monday, is officially here for the foreseeable future. We have entered the darkness. Why does this come as such a shock each year? I think it's similar to how we can never actually remember pain. We know intellectually that something hurt, but fortunately we don't actually remember the feeling. Having the darkness of midnight descend at 4 p.m. is just that sort of experience. I know each fall that it's coming; I tense a little as the leaves switch from gold to brown. And then it's here and we're supposed to go on like nothing has happened.
This year I'm fighting back. I won't fall victim to the urge to hibernate, surrounded by carbs and chocolate. I won't lose my interest in my hobbies. I won't spend all my free time sleeping and watching TV. I won't be grumpy and short tempered with my loved ones on a daily basis. And I certainly won't gain 15 pounds. Not again.
If, like me, you get "bear brain" as the days grown darker, you may find some of the steps I've chosen to take helpful. The following are choices I've made after consulting with my doctor and reading Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seaonal Affective Dissorder by Norman E. Rosenthal. I am most certainly not a doctor.
Awareness is probably the best tool of all. I know the danger signs and that gives me hope that if I see myself sliding into bear mentality, I'll be able to catch myself and make some changes. On a more concrete level, I've purchased a Sunbox and try to spend at least a half hour in front of it each morning. Winter Blues discusses what to look for in a light box and how to best utilize its benefits. I suspect I'm not taking full advantage of mine, but I'm doing what fits my life.
Last year about this time my doctor handed me a prescription to walk "at least 15 minutes, as close to dawn as possible, every day". The greater the exposure (i.e. longer walk, sunnier day), the greater the benefit. Doing it early is important. Exposure to daylight at any point in the day is better than no daylight, but researchers have found the benefits are greater the earlier the exposure takes place.
One of the things I've always loved about walking as exercise is that the only required equipment is a pair of comfy sneakers. Depending on the length of the walk, a water bottle could also be a good idea. I've added a map and my iPod to my personal list of required equipment, but these are icing rather than absolute essentials. This week I purchased a little more icing: a pair of rain pants and a reflective vest. I've already worn the rain pants twice, and I can't help but wonder why I never thought to get them before. Gone are the days of soggy jeans slapping against my skin as I attempt to keep to my walking resolution. Throw your soggy winds at me November, I'm ready! The vest hasn't arrived yet, but I think having it will give me one less excuse not to get out there and walk.
The rest of my attack plan can be summed up with the words "be good to myself". This covers everything from planning ahead so I have healthy, preferably unprocessed, foods on hand, to making plans in the evening, so I have a reason to look forward to the dark end of the day. I've found this is a great time of year for taking adult enrichment classes. I'm lucky enough to live in an area where there are numerous adult programs. I also make a point of reading notices on the bulletin boards of libraries and coffee shops to see what one time events are coming up.
In The Geography of Bliss Eric Weiner discusses the preferred Icelandic method for coping with months of true darkness. Can you guess? Not surprisingly, it's alcohol. If you have any non-alcoholic tricks for dealing with the encroaching darkness, I would love to hear them. I'm also on the search for dinner recipes that can either be made in advance or freeze well. Feel free to leave a link in the comments section. Until next time, stay warm, soak up the sun and feel free to write yourself a walking prescription.
The following video is included for the song, Willie Nelson's Bring Me Sunshine. I double dog dare you to listen to it and not start smiling.