How to Beat the Winter Blues
Tips from a SAD Veteran
On Fighting Winter SAD
We recently passed the solstice and it’s dark at like 4:30 in the afternoon. If you are a night owl, like me and have the tendency to over sleep, this can often mean that by the time you finally get outside the day is rapidly already winding down, the sky darkening, the night rolling across the city along with cold wind and a torrent of rain. It’s a far cry from a sunny day at the beach!
I have a bad case of SAD. The silly acronym for Seasonal Affective Disorder. Gloomy weather tends to make me gloomy. Since I live in the Pacific Northwest this is a tangible affliction. At night, around you don’t fall asleep to the gently pitter patter of rain on the shingled roof, you listen to the torrential downpour, it sounds like a lively creek has been installed in the gutter over the side of the house where the basement has been leaking.
I’ve tried all kinds of methods over the years to fight back against the creep of the disorder. The thing is I hate getting depressed, it’s so boring. If it was more interesting, I might not mind so much, there is something romantic, in a Lord Byron sort of fashion about gloominess, especially if it helps produce art. But when I get down, I don’t write epic poetry, or write much of anything, I mostly sit around on the couch spacing out, or waste time playing too much video games.
I think that people who don’t experience SAD think that people who do are maybe making it up, coming up with an excuse to be mopey. But it’s one of those negative experiences, like food poisening or migraines where if you have ever had it, you know it’s for real.
One year I fought back against SAD by micro-dosing psilocybin. This worked quite well actually, and I probably should do it again this year. The psilocybin just adds a slight infusion of brightness to the day, the yellow and scarlet of autumn leaves burn with extra vividness, the twinkle of Christmas lights feels celestial. The problem with micro-dosing, I found was after doing it for a few weeks, it sort of has a compound loosy-goosy effect on reality, making everything in life feel malleable, fairy tale like. I decided it wasn’t a good thing to pursue long term. But it does give you a boost, it gives everything a brightness.
I also got into Sun tanning for a bit as well, going to a tanning booth for the blast of Vitamin D. I felt weird about going to a tanning booth, I’m not really the kind of guy you would normally associate with tanning booths, I think. But I felt it did help, giving me that extra kick of simulated sunshine. And, I got one of those full spectrum lights also. The idea is that it mimics the fill prism of ROYGBIV that is packed into white light.
The guy who first came up with full spectrum light was a fellow by the name of John Ott.
He got interested in light by doing time lapse photography of plants sprouting and growing. As he continued to experiment with light, he realized it is more than just the force which allows us to see. He described it as a nutrient, saying “My studies have indicated that light is a nutrient, similar to all the other nutrients we take in through food, and that we need the full spectrum range of natural daylight. . .. “If human skin is not exposed to solar radiation (direct or scattered) for long periods of time, disturbances will occur in the physiological equilibrium of the human system. The result will be functional disorders of the nervous system and a vitamin-D deficiency, a weakening of the body’s defenses, and an aggravation of chronic diseases.”
The problem with light boxes is that you are supposed to just sit in front of one every morning for half an hour to get the benefits, and that’s pretty boring and time consuming. I came up with the solution of putting my light box on top of a book shelf, in front of an indoor exercise bike, so I can pedal and get some exercise while soaking up the full spectrum of light.
My personal favorite way of dealing with SAD is the sauna. A friend of mine gave me an indoor sauna of his own invention. It’s basically an indoor greenhouse tent, the sort that people used to use to grow weed in their basement, filled up with red light bulbs similar to the kind they use to keep your food hot at an all you can eat buffet. The red bulbs give off infrared heat, you switch the thing on and within minutes your cooking, ten minutes in and you are covered in sweat. It perfectly simulates the feeling of a day that’s just way to hot, and since I am apparently a lizard, my body craves this feeling. Like I said, my friend invented this sauna, and it turns out it’s not particularly safe. Yesterday while sitting in, it, I reached for my water bottle too fast, a drop of sweat flew off my wrist, when it landed on the bulb, the difference in temperature caused the bulb to shatter‚—like a light bulb grenade, a shard hit my leg and I ended up bleeding all over the place, which was a mess. Still, I’ll probably risk it again, I’m addicted to the post-sauna relaxation.
In summary, here is my personal stack for combating winter blues:
1. Microdose psilocybin weekly
2. Tanning bed, for emergencies
3. Light Box, occasionally
4. Indoor Sauna, as needed
5. Get outside! daily
Honestly the best solution to fighting SAD is to just get outside, ideally at first light, and move! Go for a run . . . even a little bit of natural actual sunshine, filtering through the clouds is better than any simulation.
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