As the days get shorter in the Northern Hemisphere, demand for SAD lamps goes up.
We all know that our mood seems to mirror the weather – and it’s true that living in a Northern latitude increases your risk of depression. But that link may not all be down to shifting day length after all. This fascinating study gathered data on mental health from over 195 countries – Who is more prone to depression at higher latitudes? Islanders or mainlanders?
Even after adjusting for poverty, urbanisation and disaster risk, they found a three-way interaction between variability in day length, culture and attitudes. People in the North tend to have an ‘Island’ mentality with a narrow social and family circle and individualistic attitude compared to those who live in the more community-minded South. That leaves northerners, ‘Islanders’ more vulnerable to the vagaries of the weather and less able to cope when they do experience depression than those who enjoy a ‘mainland’ mentality.
That’s great news because you probably can’t change where you live but you can choose to adopt that southern attitude and take the time to say ‘hello’ to the people around you.
Feeling pride in your home might help you to invite your new friends round, boosting your happiness score even more. The Happiness Institute surveyed over 13,489 people and conducted 78 in-depth interviews in 10 countries across Europe – The GoodHome Report. Their report concluded that 73% of people who are happy with their home are also happy in life. Your home accounts for for as much as 15% of your total happiness score, above health and fitness, which comes in at 14%, and significantly more important than earnings (6%) or employment (3%).
They found that pride is the most important emotion for a happy home, followed by comfort at 25%. Identity, or the sense that our home reflects who we are comes in at 17%, interestingly that scores higher than safety (10%) and control (4%). Simply making sure all the lights work, replacing those flickering compact fluorescents with a good-quality LED and investing in an adjustable task or table lamp could make the difference to how bright you feel.
That doesn’t mean that SAD lamps won’t help. Bright light therapy can boost mood for people who suffer from seasonal and non-seasonal depression alike. A targeted blast of light for a limited time (10,000 lux for 30-60 minutes) can be as good as an antidepressant without the side effects – Bright light therapy for mental and behavioral illness: A systematic umbrella review.
Although the evidence is mixed, Dawn Simulator Lamps might help too, as this recent study with patients experiencing major depressive disorder shows – Effects of dynamic bedroom lighting on measures of sleep and circadian rest-activity rhythm in inpatients with major depressive disorder.
Exactly how Bright Light Therapy works is the subject of lively debate – the classic Serotonin hypothesis for depression has recently been called into question – The serotonin theory of depression: a systematic umbrella review of the evidence. But setting the body clock and activating the attention and mood-regulating pathways all seem to have a part to play.
So the simplest, and most sustainable (and affordable) solution may to brave the chill winds and gloomy headlines, get outside every morning and invite friends round to your bright and welcoming home – so we can all face the winter with a smile.
Training indoors? Training your gaze could help!
If the darker evenings have got you exercising on a machine instead of getting outside, actively shifting your gaze could just help you to stick at it, go further, and even a bit faster too!
This study found that experienced long-distance runners switched between wide, broad, expansive visual attention or the longer haul and narrow focus to give them a boost as they approached a milestone – Where you look and how far you go: The relationship between attentional styles and running performance. This builds on research that showed that if we’re slower and make more mistakes if we start a task focusing on the work that still needs to be done rather than if we start out with the end goal in mind and narrow down when we’re closer to the final goal – The road traveled, the road ahead, or simply on the road? When progress framing affects motivation in goal pursuit.
So if you’re exercising from home, this simple trick with lights might help.
Plug in a clip-on spotlight or even fairy lights to highlight a favourite image or motivational quote on the other side of the room. Switch between the wider perspective and the narrow focus on the exercise machine display as you approach a milestone – perhaps minutes, calories or distance, especially as you get tired or bored. I can’t promise you’ll ever enjoy the gym – but you might get better results while you’re there!
And finally, as the leaves start to turn, I always wonder how different people see the colours all around us.
Around 12% of women have an extra colour-sensing cone which in principle allows them to see an estimated 100 million more colours than the average person. The artist Concetta Antico is one of them – This Woman Sees 100 Times More Colors Than The Average Person. Sadly I’m not one of them but I still love watching the trees in St Mary’s churchyard start to turn.
During spring and summer, the green chlorophyll dominates. But as the nights start to grow longer, chlorophyll production slows and then stops completely. A group of chemicals called carotenoids are there all year round and offer protection against sun damage. But once the dominant green starts to fade, those fiery orange tones shine through. All trees have chlorophyll and carotenoids. But only some of the produce anthocyanin, the pigment that causes leaves to turn red. Anthocyanin is produced from sugars that are trapped as the tree prepares to shed its leaves. Another reason to get outside!