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The Care and Feeding of Humans in Winter

by Ged Bryon, M.Ed.

Well, here we are. The Holidays are roaring up on us and we are rapidly heading into the deep and dark of winter. It is wise to pay special attention now to our physical and emotional needs since many things that nurture us at other times of the year are out of reach. How about some ways to flow with Mother Nature rather than resenting or trying to fight her? There is much waiting to feed us even now!

Eye Stimulation: In recent years I've been interested in how many celebrations about light in one form or another take place around the darkest time of year. Science has an amusing way of finally catching up with cultural wisdom. Now we know that sunlight stimulating the rods and cones of the eyes release those old friends -- endorphins. That's right, simply by being out in the sunlight we release chemicals that give us a significant emotional lift. Sun glasses are fine if we expect over exposure that could cause eye damage but they are lousy for making cheerful connections with others and getting those rods and cones stimulated.

Be outside instead of looking out: Frequently it feels a lot better to be outside than to be inside looking out. The temptation on a gray, damp, cold day is to snug up indoors and try to keep warm. That can be very nurturing but it isn't the only game in town. Almost without exception when I get myself outdoors on a lousy day I discover that the day is a great deal more pleasant than it looks from inside. No need to stay out for hours. Even a brief 30-minute walk under an umbrella or carefully picking my way around the ice patches leaves me feeling better for the rest of the day. Certainly on clear, cold days were not going to get rod and cone stimulation by sitting indoors.

Sun Profile: For those of you who are now saying "fine, fine, enough, just bring the crocuses" -- there is hope. The darkest day of the year is, of course, the winter solstice December 21. Interestingly though, the sun's pattern is not symmetrical. The darkest afternoon, that is the earliest sunset, actually happens November 14th when the sun sets as early as 4:46 pm. By January 15th it is already setting 24 minutes later at 5:10 pm. Morning darkness, however, continues to increase until January 4th when the sunrise is as late as 7:27am. It takes a few weeks to see the difference because the sun's timing changes most slowly at the solstice and most rapidly at the equinox. For encouragement right now though, pay attention to the increasingly later sunsets after the middle of November.

Full Spectrum Bulbs: This sun process may be taking a bit too long for some. Full spectrum light bulbs in areas where I spend a lot of time have helped me a lot. They make me feel good, partly I think because the color of the light is invitingly different from stuffy indoor lighting and partly because I get rod and cone stimulation from it. Bread & Circus has full spectrum florescent bulbs. On occasion I have seen regular base bulbs as well. They are not "Energetically Correct" as they take a bit more power to make equal light but I think it's worth it.

Blizzards and flood lights: Most of us are aware now that endorphins are one of our primary natural sources of feeling good. Giving to others, laughter, fun, -- I include gratitude -- and exercise are all excellent endorphin stimulators. Obviously, including a lot of these in our daily life will help us get the emotional nourishment we especially need in winter. For fun and gratitude I love to watch the birds at the feeder. Sometimes I GO OUT and the chickadees will feed on sunflowers in my hand if I'm patient. How about watching a blizzard from INSIDE with the outdoor flood lights on. How about a roof-top hot tub in a snow storm. Find a source of delight that truly warms you - it will make a big difference.

Winter Weekend: Breaking up the long winter months with a special away-weekend helps a lot. We get to look forward to it for a month and appreciate for two weeks after we return. By the time that is over we're a month and half closer to spring! It doesn't have to be expensive -- could be a weekend with a friend in a cabin that has a fire place or a simple cozy inn with good food.

Get out with others: If the weekend idea takes too much time or money simply get out where others are having a good social time. Go to your favorite restaurants and slowly enjoy the fabulous treats the area offers. One of my favorites is marsala tea at the Indian restaurant on Main Street Amherst and the soup noodles with chicken at Amherst Chinese. I find them as delightful as that first waft of spring air.

Invite people in: Home is of course a special place to all of us. Don't go it alone. Invite others over for an evening by the fire, make pop corn, have dinner, dance and sing, watch a funny movie - whatever. Bring that good energy into the space where you live. It will linger a while.

These are some ideas to help get you started. The whole point is to be a bit more purposeful and wise about including emotionally healthy activities to brighten up the dark of winter. Enjoy before it's too late.....the crocuses are coming!

Ged Bryon is a Psychotherapist in Pelham, MA which is near Amherst. For more information about his practice, see his directory listing.

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Last modified: November 22, 1997

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