Couple combats low moods in winter with exercise

Combating Time Change and Less Daylight in the Fall & Winter

shutterstock_706522951It happens every year. Twice a year in fact. Once going forward, and once going backward. Just an hour, one hour out of 168 in the week. And yet that hour can have a tremendous impact. It’s more than the hour, of course, more than the sudden shift in time, but also a gradual shift to more or less hours in the day. When we get to November, the change is halting for many people. We wake up and realize there are fewer hours of daylight (even though this has actually been retreating for months), and the sun is typically down – and dark upon us – at an hour when many of us are still at work. The psychological effects of the time change and diminishing daylight have become increasingly under the spotlight these days. How can you make the best of the situation? Read on to learn why this happens, and to gain valuable tips that will make your time transition and fall/winter days more tolerable and more productive.

The Psychological and Physiological Effects of Time Change

What effect does “losing” or “gaining” time have on people? Whether it’s “jet lag” from a transcontinental flight, or a mere hour in a daylight savings time change, the physiological and psychological results can be profound. Alterations in our sleep cycle are perhaps the most obvious one. It’s clearer, of course, what losing several hours (or an entire night) of sleep can do to the traveller. Even if one is lucky enough to be able to sleep in flight, the change in hours alone will have an impact. When one arrives at destination, it can take days to catch up on sleep schedule. The same can be said, however, for a daylight savings time change, albeit in a subtler manner. The “loss” of one hour’s sleep is often felt when we “spring ahead” in March. We “lose” an hour of sleep (assuming we haven’t planned in the change and made proper accommodations), and our bodies think we’re going to work or school an hour early on that first (brutal!) Monday morning. In fact, it’s said that the risk of heart attack or stroke can increase slightly during the first 48 hours of the time change. Traffic accidents and other health and safety issues are also reported in greater numbers during the spring time change. What we “benefit” from, at least in theory, is an ‘extra’ hour of daylight at the end of the afternoon. Once the adjustments are made, that might work out just dandy.

shutterstock_231519856But what about the fall time change, which now takes place in November? Shouldn’t this make us feel better? After all, we’ve “gained” an extra hour, haven’t we? Perhaps. We can make this case, for example, with regard to sleep, so long as we’ve planned for it and truly given ourselves that extra hour of sleep or rest. At the same time, the daylight hours have gradually been on the decrease. We notice this most – and quite abruptly – when the sun suddenly sets an hour earlier in the afternoon. Here in Canada, that can mean the difference between darkness at 5:30, for example, changing to 4:30. If you’re still at work and it’s dark, you might feel like you’ve put in a longer day. That’s especially true as we get into December and January, when your morning and evening commutes could be in darkness, leaving you longing to see the sun. Speaking of the sun, or what there is of it this time of year, our lack of direct sunlight can indeed produce a deficiency in vitamin D. It can also have other effects which contribute to what’s known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or “SAD.” Even on sunny days, the angle of the sun is lower, giving us less and less daylight to enjoy (especially when it’s cold out). And depending on where you live, the number of sunny days may very well be less than what you’d experience in the summer. This is when we see real effects such as depression and anxiety becoming more prevalent.

Okay, so the springtime adjustment is harsher, but the spring and summer sunlight and warmth make up for it, at least for most people. And, on the flip side, while we’re gifted that extra hour in the fall, the lasting effects for weeks or even months as we go through fall and winter are less than desirable. What, then, are we to do?

What You Can Do to Combat the Time Change and Loss of Daylight

shutterstock_722612032Knowledge is power, as they say. Information can be your greatest ally. Now that you know what can happen this time of year, you can take steps to prevent the negative effects. It’s within your power to be just as productive and content this time of year as any. How? In one word: Attitude. If you believe that every autumn and winter will bring with a ‘perfect storm’ of effects that will leave you feeling down, depressed, stressed or anxious, you’re fighting a losing battle. Changing your beliefs, therefore, is vital in changing how you feel. It doesn’t have to be this way. You can win this battle! It’s time to take control and make a plan.

Don’t Be Taken Aback – Take Your Fall & Winter Back!

By now, you know when these changes are happening, both with respect to the daylight savings time (and its conclusion) as well as the gradual shift to less daylight. The first step is to plan ahead for it. On the weekend when the time is slated to “fall back,” take full advantage of that extra hour.

  • Try going to bed early on Saturday night (set any manual clocks an hour back before you retire)
  • Wake up early on Sunday morning, in time to start your day when the sun is coming up
  • Spend as much time as you can outdoors on Sunday and on subsequent days, soaking up sunshine or at least daylight
  • That way, when the “early” hour rolls around, you’ll have had a sufficient amount of time in daylight, and won’t be taken aback by the time change
  • Whether you’re at work, at school, or at home, be sure to take time out to get outside – it’s not enough that we see daylight out the window; the more we can experience it directly, the likelier it is that we’ll feel energized and productive

That’s your first course of action, for the initial days following the time change. Get out ahead of it! And keep the momentum going. What else can you do as the days get shorter and we go through the fall and into the winter?

Don’t Become a Hermit; Maintain a Full Schedule and Make This Fall & Winter Your Best Yet!

shutterstock_555937660With colder weather setting in, some people fall into the habit of becoming a hermit. Don’t! Instead, get out there! Keep in close contact with people, keep a fuller social calendar, and keep yourself fit. Yes, this will require a little extra effort, up front, but you’ll thank yourself later for making the adjustment.

  • Make plans with friends and family… go out of your way to structure in some social time… alhough you might not be going to the beach or having a backyard BBQ, even meeting friends for a meal or cup of coffee can help
  • Better yet, make plans to meet a friend at the gym! It’s been proven that exercise is the great weapon against depression anxiety… Stay fit, keep up your cardiovascular health, and make exercise a part of your winter routine… whether indoors (gym, basketball, etc) or out (skiing, snowshoeing, etc), take full advantage of the opportunities
  • In addition to exercise and friends-and-family time, now’s a great time to get more involved in extra-curricular activities! Take a course (either for personal interest or something that would help you advance in your career) … join a club… get involved in your community… expand your horizons in one or more of a multitude of ways that can enhance your life, professionally and personally

It takes time and effort, but you can get through the fall and winter – and come out the other side better off for it!

What If This Isn’t Enough?

shutterstock_34488586Perhaps you’re reading this at the point where you’re in a more advanced state of depression or anxiety? While we’ve set forth a roadmap, as it were, following the steps might seem like the “logical’ thing to do, but maybe you’re in an emotional state where you feel like it’s not enough?

Capital Choice Counselling can help. Our knowledgeable and highly-trained counsellors have plenty of experience dealing with depression and anxiety that are directly tied to or exacerbated by seasonal changes. We’ll work with you to identify the root issues of what’s making you feel this way, then set out on a course with you to find ways you can feel better. That’s the goal, after all, and we want to help you get there. Contact us today to set up an appointment and take the first steps towards feeling better.