Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we’ve passed the shortest day, but the slow darkness always seems to drag on through these coldest of winter months. January is when a lot of people suffer from SAD (seasonal affective disorder) otherwise known as seasonal depression.
It’s no joke.
More than just the “winter blues”, for some people, fewer hours of sunlight can cause serious mental health issues. As melatonin (that’s the sleep hormone) and serotonin (that’s the happy one) levels go awry, life can very easily slip down a slippery slope and depressive moods take over. If a bout of seasonal affective disorder is serious, doctors and therapists will provide antidepressants or light therapy. But before it gets to that stage, there are many, many forms of natural healing we can each do to care for ourselves and keep our own mental and physical health tip top.
1. RISE WITH THE SUN
Not a very hard thing to do when it gets light so late, but actually making the effort to get outside and watch the sunrise is life-changing when it comes to wellness. As well as offering uplifting, life-affirming views first thing in the morning and helping to keep your circadian rhythm finely tuned (it’s hard to oversleep when there’s a sunrise to see!) rising with the Sun creates the opportunity for sungazing. This is an ancient practice of literally gazing into the Sun, just as it rises over the horizon, for just a couple of seconds. Believed to offer huge health benefits, ranging from more energy and reduced weight gain (seriously!) to opening the pineal gland and increasing psychic awareness, sungazing is making a comeback. Just be sure to do your research first (side-effects, if done incorrectly, can be significant) and only ever sungaze for a second or two when the Sun is low over the horizon.
2. GO FOREST BATHING
Big in Japan when it comes to treating depression, forest bathing can be done at any time of the year, but winter’s when it really comes into its own. The premise is simple – locate an area of forest, go there and soak up the experience with every one of your senses. If you feel called, connect to one tree in particular: sit with it, touch it and let your energy fields merge.
Japanese doctors have found that as a form of therapy, forest bathing lowers heart rates, cortisol, and stress levels considerably, improves focus and concentration, as well as dramatically boosting the immune system. In fact, forest bathing has become a vital part of their national health program and is one of the go-to treatment options when it comes to treating depressive disorders.
It’s true that spending time out in nature, in any green space, has healing benefits but forests – especially ancient ones – have particular (and proven) healing qualities.
3. CREATE A WINTER ALTAR
Why not reverse-engineer the potential for seasonal affective disorder and spend a little time embracing the winter instead?
One way to do this is to create an altar, bringing natural objects inside your home to honor this time of death and renewal. Go out into nature to find symbols of winter’s depth and darkness and then bring them indoors so you can place them on your altar, examining them and spending time with them. These could be bones, hag stones (stones with a hole which has been worn away), shells, leaf skeletons or seed casings, for example. (Click here for some examples of winter altars to swoon over!)
Perhaps by elevating winter, giving it a sacred status, and finding the beauty held in the darkness of this season, you’ll be more able to find the beauty in your own darkness?
4. TAKE IN BIRD MEDICINE
Birds are cheerfully abundant whatever the time of year, and watching them soar, fly and feed during this seasonal downtime can give a real boost to your well-being. Bring them closer still by hanging a bird-feeder outside of your kitchen window so you can see them more closely.
Closely connected to the element of air, birds can bring us many lessons relating to it – to do with hope, potential, inspiration, and freedom. These are all severely dampened by seasonal depression, yet so embodied by the feathered friends you have living right outside! So watch them, spend time with them, commune with them, and they’ll teach you what they know!
5. GROW AN INDOOR HERB GARDEN
Beneficial on SO many levels, growing an indoor herb garden in the winter months is a great treatment (both prevention and cure) for seasonal affective disorder.
As well as providing the fresh ingredients for many dishes (and containing heaps of micro-nutrition), tending your own herb garden is a form of therapy all of its own. Nurturing something, from planting a seed in the earth to its germination, growth, and fruition is incredibly life-affirming and can take your mind away from the worries and anxieties that tend to loom large at this time.