Mindfulness and S.A.D.
Short days, grey skies, cold damp weather and a lack of sunshine can make the early months of the year difficult for many. Even if you don’t have a Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) diagnosis, some of the symptoms of SAD (often called the winter blues) are all too familiar to many during the winter months: we may feel less joyful, less productive, have low mood, a loss of interest in normal activities, experience feelings of low self esteem, lethargy and poor concentration. We tend to wish the winter away, to dream of sunnier climes.
But winter has a purpose. Winter is the season of rest. The trees, shrubs and flowers are resting, the hedgehogs and the bats are hibernating. It is a time to look inward, a time for reflection and introspection. And without the dark, we won’t see and appreciate the light.
“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.” — Henry David Thoreau
There are some practical things we can do to mitigate the onset of winter blues. Going for a walk or do some other fairly vigorous exercise each day helps, and owing so in the morning is best. Exposing our skin to the full spectrum of sunlight also helps – going outside and making the most of each sunny spell. Making sure enough sunlight get inside too – making sure we don’t block windows and natural light sources. For some, purchasing dawn simulators and light boxes to brighten the mornings helps with the symptoms. Eating a healthy diet with lots of fruit, vegetables and protein, and drinking plenty of water will level our mood and give us energy. And a regular mindfulness and meditation practice will have a positive effect on our mood and our resilience.
Meditation, Mindfulness and SAD
There is scientific and anecdotal evidence that meditation is helpful in the management of SAD symptoms. People with SAD have difficulty regulating the neurotransmitter serotonin, believed to be responsible for balancing mood. Another difficulty is with the overproduction of melatonin, the hormone that causes sleepiness, and the combination of these two impacts on our circadian rhythms – our body clock. Add in a reduction in vitamin D because of the lack of sunlight, and you can see why we might then start to feel low in winter.
Meditation is a natural and perfectly safe way to help address the symptoms of winter depression, as well as anxiety and stress. A regular meditation practice is also said to have a positive effect on the pineal gland, the part of the brain that controls hormone production and melatonin production.
Being more mindful can further address the symptoms of SAD in a number of ways. The first is by building resilience. Resilience is defined as the ability to withstand the difficult and unpleasant things in our lives without being overwhelmed by them, and the ability to adapt to change. Weathering the storms, both literally and metaphorically, becomes part of the rhythm of life. Imagine a mountain, resistant to all weathers, standing tall and strong, patiently weathering all seasons. Just like the mountain, staying present through all conditions, fully embracing the current season, observing the impact without judgement and embracing the conditions as part of the rhythm of life can help to mitigate the negative emotional states that can accompany the winter months. The seasons show us the impermanence of life and the need to be in the moment. After all, this too will pass.
Mindfulness also sharpens our witness mind, our powers of observation and the power of perspective. We don’t have to attach to every feeling that arises, or to respond to every emotion. We can shift our focus to see the need for rest, reflection and introspection, and witness the beauty of a quiet and sleeping landscape. Change how you see, and see how you change.
By building a mindful focus on gratitude – literally listing things you value and enjoy about winter – open fires, warm drinks, warm baths, crisp mornings, frost, winter sunshine, red sunsets, pink sunrises, icy puddles and more, we can then start to appreciate the season and use this exercise to counter and balance out the negative attitudes and mindsets we may be cultivating unconsciously.
Being mindful also teaches us to care for ourselves, so embracing winter as a time of self care can also help us to look after ourselves during the winter months, nourishing ourselves and tending to our needs. This is the time for being kind to ourselves and for taking good care of ourselves and others.
“The light of winter is the poetry of patience” Monika Minder
Link here for access a guided meditation for resilience: The Mountain Meditation
With thanks to The Mindfulness Project www.Londonmindful.com