Originally published in Comfort Zone Newsletter: February 2008.
When we created and validated the self-test in our 1997 study (the reference for it is at the bottom of my home page) we reported a number of items that we did not use on the self-test that could have been used because they were as predictable of sensitivity as the ones we did use. One of these was, “Are you sensitive to seasonal or weather-related changes in the amount of daylight?” “Yes,” many of us would say, according to that research.
This response does not necessarily mean that an HSP has “Seasonal Affective Disorder,” which applies only to those who are impaired by their emotional reaction to dark days. (If you are, there are special lights that you can use every day that will help, along with appropriate medications.)
Our more sensitive reaction to dark days simply means that we notice what’s going on outside more than others. It affects us. Some of us may even like it, or like it for awhile. When I’m writing, I prefer a foggy or rainy day–it keeps me from being bothered that I’ve shut myself in. A good snow or rain can make everything snug and cozy, even romantic. As Fred (Astair) sang to Ginger, “Isn’t it a lovely day to be caught in the rain?”
But it can also get you down after awhile, as one more storm sweeps in. Or if you live in the very northern latitudes, it’s tough when you not only arise in the dark but stand on the street corner for the bus in the dark. Then it’s dark again at four or even three in the afternoon. If you work indoors you can miss the day’s light entirely.
What can you do to cope, besides moving to the equator? Here are a few tips.
- Pay attention to lighting. Have enough lights on in a room to make you feel good, even in day time. Of course turn them off when you leave a room for long and use energy efficient bulbs, but the light does help. Look around for dark spots in a room and get them lit. Buy yourself a new lamp. Light candles at night.
- Go outside in the early mid day, no matter what the weather. Don’t wait until the sun is past its high point–that time of day can be, well, a downer.
- Go out every day no matter how bad the weather. Get your exercise out of doors when possible. Enjoy nature, whatever it is doing during this season. I knew an HSP who loved more than anything to stay outside during major storms even at night, and revel in every moment of it. As soon as the sky darkened with storm clouds, he would drop everything to go out. You just have to have the clothes for it, he explained. And remember, indoors everything is so overheated that a few wet spots on your clothes will not lead to pneumonia, but rather to improved humidity.
- If you live far enough north to have short days, try spending more time in bed. Sleep as much as you can. When I lived in northern B.C. with no electricity, rather than trying to read by kerosene lamps, we found ourselves sleeping much more in winter, and then much less in summer. It seemed to work.
- Think of the time you are not spending doing summer activities as a savings you can invest in winter activities. Maybe have more company over. Read something entirely new. My choice this year is geology–I anticipate knowing more about it when I am out hiking again. Or you might choose botany for the same reason, or the histories of places you might visit this summer.
- Use that time to be more creative–to write long letters and emails or to make longer entries in your journal. Again, it’s just the right sort of thing when shut indoors. Or maybe you’d rather be working on a new craft project.
- Stay warm. HSPs are more affected by being too hot or too cold. Pay attention to this during the day, and no heroics. If you want to keep the thermostat set low, buy silk long underwear and cashmere sweaters. Keep everything fresh and clean. Pamper yourself.
- Keep up with the latest on cold and flu prevention. For one thing, it reduces your fears about getting chilled so you can be outside more. There is quite a bit new in this area, beyond Vitamin C and flu shots. Different things work for different people, but I rarely get sick now, only because of the things that have been recommended to me by my “integrative medicine” doc (MDs who combine western and alternative medicine).
I hope all of this proves useless because spring has already sprung when you read this. But perhaps save it for next year, because we really are prone to be “sensitive to seasonal or weather-related changes in the amount of daylight.”