In the last couple of weeks I’ve been suffering from bouts of depression that is hard to describe. I’m doing the usual things to combat depression, like lifting and working on something, but it wasn’t having an effect.
I live in Philadelphia and the winters here get pretty cold and more importantly, are Grey.
I feel like I haven’t seen the sun in months, and it’s having a noticeable effect. Not only am I not getting enough sunlight while I’m outside, but I’m also inside most of the day from 12-8 pm.
It was getting so bad I had mind to tell my friend about how I’ve been feeling pretty depressed the last couple of weeks. I mentioned I think it’s because I haven’t seen the sun.
Sunlight is key to changing mood
Despite the grey, bitter cold winters in Philly, the temperature suddenly shifted this weekend. It’s been 65 degrees and sunny the last couple days for some strange reason and I took advantage of it.
I walked down to main street and soaked in the sun. Got myself a coffee and returned home. When home, I set up some of my backyard furniture and just sat in the sun.
It was beautiful!
It’s astonishing to me how simply walking outside and feeling the heat of the sun radiate on your skin can drastically change your mood.
Temperature also has an effect because with the heat of the sun, I’m not annoyed by the extreme cold. I’m comfortable walking around with a long sleeve t-shirt. This has a secondary effect of having more light on my skin because I don’t have concealing clothing on like a heavy coat.
Our bodies have evolved for millennia to adapt to the sun. The sun is literally the bringer of life, without it we would all die. It makes sense that having direct contact, or lack of contact with it, would have an effect on our bodies.
What is causing this effect?
There’s two things going on with the sun that is changing our moods.
First, the light wakes us up and has an effect on regulating the body’s circadian rhythms. This means that when we get up in the morning and have direct contact with sunlight, our bodies respond by producing specific chemicals that prepare us for the day.
Our bodies produce endorphins to make us positive and able to attack the day. When the sun goes down, our bodies start producing other chemicals to get us ready to go to sleep.
Without exposure to light, or with weak exposure, our bodies get confused and start producing the wrong chemicals at the wrong times.
It’s important to get the right light upon waking up, and to not be exposed to that same light in the hours before going to bed. This is one of the reasons that working on a computer or looking at your phone late at night also messes with your mood and sleeping.
Second, the UV light from the sun causes us to produce vitamin D in our bodies. People are having vitamin d deficiencies around the world because we’re inside all of the time.
This is one of the biggest reasons why we get sick during the winter. Lower vitamin d levels lead to a weaker immune system. Getting the cold has little to do with the temperature.
Vitamin d supplementation may be effective in this case, but nothing beats the real thing as vitamin d produced from uv rays is more bioavailable.
Artificial light and UV Rays
The only way around not getting enough sunlight is to artificially try to get light exposure that does the task of producing the right bodily response.
The first most obvious method of getting enough light is to go to a tanning booth. The trick here is that you aren’t using the tanning booth to get “tan”, you’re using it to get adiquate levels of UV exposure.
This would mean turning the booth to a low setting and not sitting in there for a while. You’re in and out so that you don’t have diminishing returns and get sunburn. This is about developing Vitamin D levels, not skin cancer.
You’ll have to figure out where you magic number is. I’m super Irish, so it’s extremely easy for my skin to absorb UV light. This only takes me a couple minutes of exposure to work.
The second method to get light is to buy a light box.
Light boxes are essentially really big lights that you shine on yourself to mimic the light you would get from the sun. You want a light that exudes 10,000 lux.
How to use a light box
Once you get a light box, position it about 2 feet away from you at an angle. You don’t want the light directly shooting into your eyes from the front. Shine the light on yourself for 20-60 minutes.
Start with 20 minutes and monitor how you feel in the beginning. Stay consistent each day and you’ll have good results.
I’ve been waking up pretty early recently. My routine as of late is to get up and work on my laptop for an hour before heading to the gym. This provides me with ample time to use my light box.
Set up a routine so that you can work on other stuff at the same time to stay efficient with your time.
Track your progress
All it took for me to stop feeling like shit recently was a good two days exposure to 65 degree weather and strong sunlight.
If you’re feeling super depressed and there’s no logical explanation for it, give light therapy a try. Seasonal depression is a huge downer. Why go through with it at all if you don’t have to?