April Equals Light 

AVA, Mo. – “It’s been a long, cold winter,” one of my class participants recently commented.  If I’ve heard that once, I’ve heard it a dozen times this year.  Folks in Missouri know full well the gray days that can seem to drag endlessly in the winter months.  Thankfully, we also know that eventually, those dreary days will give way to the warmer spring season.  For many, a glimpse of the sun is life-giving; a recharge that both the body and the soul desperately need after the “long, cold winter.”    

Most of us don’t put much thought into the way light might be affecting our mood. But if you find yourself smiling on sunny days or feeling more creative when sitting near a window, it’s no coincidence. The amount and type of light we’re exposed to can have a real impact on our emotional health and wellbeing. Researchers believe exposure to natural light helps our bodies stick to their natural circadian rhythms, so that they know when to feel alert and energetic and when to feel sleepy.  Natural light may even help to reduce symptoms of depression.  According to an article published in the Journal of Translational Psychiatry, seasonal changes in day length are known to alter mood. At temperate latitudes, nearly 10% of the population experiences winter depression characteristic of seasonal affective disorder and symptoms remit when day lengths become longer during the summer months.  

To further complicate matters, we have the issue of Daylight Savings Time (DST) – the practice of moving the clock forward or back by one hour at specified times of the year.  Daylight Saving Time has been shown to affect both our mental and physical health. Studies reported in Psychology Today state that this change causes reductions in sleep and increased rates of cardiac issues, stroke, and mood disorders like depression.  This is due in part to the body’s circadian rhythm adjusting to the time change and compensating by increasing cortisol production.  Cortisol is the body’s natural reaction to stress.  Studies further show that the risk of these adverse experiences greatly reduces within the first 3 weeks of a time change.   

For some simple self-care, consider some of these tips.  

•Spend brief periods of time outdoors several times during the day.

•When indoors, locate yourself in a stream of sunlight or near a window.  

•Set a sleep schedule and watch the length of naps to help your body adjust naturally.

•Be mindful of high carb snacks.  Cravings can occur during seasonal changes.

•Consider aromatherapy to boost your mood.

•Reach out to a mental health specialist for further support if you feel your mood worsening.

For more information contact the Douglas County Extension office at 417-683-4409.