Tips for dealing with the shorter days of winter

Nor’easter snowstorm in New York City on November 7, 2012, a week after tropical hurricane Sandy © 2012 Phil Fox Rose

First, let’s clear up one thing about “seasonal affective disorder,” or SAD. Everyone is affected by the seasons. That’s not a disorder. That’s being human.

Unless you live near the equator, the length of days changes drastically during the year. In my hometown of New York, they peak at around 15 hours in June and shorten to 9+ hours in December. (In LA, it only ranges from 14-1/2 to 10, while in northern Scotland, the source of my genetic stock, the swing is from 18 to 6-1/2.)

Last week I talked about daylight-saving time ending for the year, which makes this shortening of days seem even worse unless you’re an early morning person:

I don’t know about you, but I don’t get up by 6:30 in the morning, so setting the clock back means I simply lose an hour of daily sunlight. If you work indoors all day, you may see virtually no natural sunlight until the days have lengthened enough again next year.

Some people, without question, are debilitated by seasonal affective disorder; the reduced sunlight triggers depression and they suffer. For them, it’s entirely appropriate to look to mitigate the issue with light therapy and other focused treatments.

A time for introspection

For the rest of us, though, when the days are short, the sunlight is indirect and the air is cold, we are supposed to want to do less, sleep more, gain a little weight. A friend in Maine, where they know a thing or two about dealing with winter, says, “Maybe winter is a time for introspection. Fighting that, we can feel depressed.” It is by expecting our usual level of energy and productivity that we get down on ourselves and feed into a slothful negative spiral. It’s just common sense that when there’s less sunlight people tend to have less energy and adopt a quieter, slower pace. Don’t fight that. Work with it.

Nevertheless, there are things you can do to make the best of the season. Most of the advice for dealing with SAD offered by my friend Therese Borchard over at Beliefnet is good for everyone in wintertime. For example, she recommends getting outdoors in the sun — what little there is — whenever possible. I always suggest going outside for lunch in the summer; if it’s too cold to eat outside, at least go out to get something and bring it back or take a brisk 10-minute walk, so you get a little sunlight. I love the winter for hiking in the woods — the air is crisp and fresh, you don’t sweat, and as you quiet down with your surroundings you realize nature’s much more active than you first thought.

What I want to stress is that you see these things as taking care of yourself, rather than as fixing a disorder.

If you didn’t take advantage of the summer months to go on a retreat, maybe this winter is the time. Or just build more reflective time into the day at home. Curl up and read a good book, perhaps a quiet spiritual one you’ve always meant to read: say, Thérèse of Lisieux’s classic Story of a Soul or the Kathleen Norris memoir, The Cloister Walk. Respect the slower rhythms. And really explore Advent this year! When I discovered Advent, I was fascinated and delighted — it’s a traditional way of entering the winter season with reflection and contemplation; shifting gears, as we should.

About Phil Fox Rose

Phil Fox Rose is a writer, editor and content lead based in New York. He is coordinator of Contemplative Outreach of New York, helping promote centering prayer, which has been his contemplative practice for nearly 20 years. Raised atheist by ex-Mormons, Phil has journeyed through Quakerism, deep ecology, Buddhism and Catholicism. Now he's a congregant, worship leader, cook and chair of the leadership team at St. Lydia's, an awesome dinner church in Brooklyn, NY, and spends as much time in nature as possible. Phil has been a political party leader, videographer, tech journalist, punk roadie, software designer, sheepherder, stockbroker and downtempo radio DJ. A common thread is the process of learning about stuff, figuring it out and then sharing that understanding with others. Follow Phil by RSS feed, email, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

  • kalimsaki

    “He is One”

    This phrase announces the following good news, which is both healing and a source of happiness:
    Man’s spirit and heart, which are connected to most of the creatures in the universe and are almost overwhelmed in misery and confusion on account of this connection, find in the phrase “He is One” a refuge and protector that will deliver them from all the confusion and bewilderment.
    That is to say, it is as if “He is One” is saying to man: God is One. Do not wear yourself out having recourse to other things; do not demean yourself and feel indebted to them; do not flatter them and fawn on them and humiliate yourself; do not follow them and make things difficult for yourself; do not fear them and tremble before them; for the Monarch of the universe is One, the key to all things is with Him, the reins of all things are in His hand, everything will be resolved by His command. If you find Him, you will be saved from endless indebtedness, countless fears.
    From Risalei Nur collection by Said Nursi.

    http://www.nur.gen.tr/en.html#maincontent=Risale&islem=read&KitapId=499&BolumId=8783&KitapAd=Letters+(+revised+)&Page=263

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