Are You Sun Sensitive? Beating the Winter Blues.

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Are you Sun Sensitive?

We’re all impacted by the sun since we need Full Spectrum Sunlight plus it’s Vitamin D to help us live, work, and feel like our most optimal self.
However, some of us (me included) are what is referred to as Sun Sensitive because we actually need More Full Spectrum Sunlight than most people in order to feel healthy, strong, and like ourselves.

During Daylight Savings time when the days are shorter, and the nights are longer sun sensitive people often experience physical, mental, and emotional symptoms due to the reduced full spectrum light. In many places, during the day it’s also dark and cloudy outside so there is much less full spectrum lighting. So this creates a double whammy for sun sensitive people since they can’t bank enough sunlight each day. With many dark days and long nights in a row, the impact on highly sensitive people can show up quickly and last through early spring. This experience is called Season Affective Disorder.

There are varying degrees or symptoms of this disorder but highly sensitive people often experience many if not all symptoms. There’s a lot of information about this readily available online so if you feel you’re being impacted by SAD please research some more information.

I’ve included some basic information below along with some things that I personally have found helpful since I’ve been experiencing acute SAD for 20 years.

Common Symptoms People with Season Affective Disorder Experience

  • Sadness
  • Lethargy
  • Lack of Energy
  • Lack of Inspiration, Excitement, or Joy
  • Depression
  • Desire to Withdraw from Activities
  • Extreme Emotions; similar to an Emotional Roller Coaster
  • Body Aches
  • Increased Skin Sensitivity
  • Low Grade Fever
  • Head Fogginess
  • Sinus Pressure
  • Trouble Focusing
  • Feeling Like You’re Moving in Slow Motion
  • Forgetfulness
  • Clumsiness
  • Spatial Issues/Walking into doors or bumping into things
  • Bruising Easily
  • Sleep Issues/Insomnia
  • Always Tired/Needing a Nap/Never Feel Replenished upon Waking
  • Decreased Immune System
  • Prolonged Sickness that lingers keeping you from feeling completely well until the Sun Returns in the Spring
  • Skin Discoloration/green and or dark circles or undertone
  • Weight Gain/Particularly around lower tummy, hips, and bum
  • Intense Carbohydrate Cravings/Breads, Alcohol, and Desserts

Why Does This Happen?
Full Spectrum Sunlight feeds our Serotonin Levels in the brain.
Serotonin is one of the things responsible for helping us to feel good, balanced, and like our true selves. We need Serotonin and can only bank it one day at a time. The number one way we bank Serotonin is by being exposed to full spectrum sunlight. We aren’t able to keep a savings account to make withdrawals on dark days unfortunately which is why highly sensitive people experience SAD symptoms.

The body and brain are so intelligent that they know when they’re low on Serotonin and will send intense signals to you to increase your Serotonin right away. It tries to keep us balanced with what we need at all times.

One of the things that spikes Serotonin is Carbohydrates which is why people crave Carbs when they don’t have enough Full Spectrum Sunlight.
Unfortunately, Carbohydrates only spike Serotonin for a small segment of time and then Your Serotonin Levels Drop Further Then They Were Before.

  • Carbs Rob the Body of Serotonin after Spiking it Temporarily

This creates a tough cycle as you can imagine.

But, there are things you can do to increase your Serotonin levels that will actually replenish you instead of robbing you. (Yay!)

Another Important thing to know about this Serotonin issue is that you need it to create Melatonin in the brain which supports good sleeping health and habits.
So if you aren’t getting enough Full Spectrum Sunlight then you aren’t producing enough Serotonin or Melatonin which impacts you when you’re Awake and when you’re Asleep.

This information alone provides a lot of insight into the importance of getting outside daily, doesn’t it?

Being indoors under artificial light for the majority of the day is not great for our overall health.

While there is no replacement for Mother Nature there are some ways to help reduce the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder and help make the winter more manageable.  

Ways to Reduce or Manage SAD Symptoms:

The Number 1 way to reverse your symptoms is to spend time in direct sunlight to bank sun and to increase your Serotonin levels. If you can take a trip to a sunny place, you’ll notice a huge difference in the way that you feel and your symptoms will shift pretty quickly.

  • If you can’t take a vacation; the following things can help you reduce or manage your SAD symptoms:

Increase Full Spectrum Lighting:
You can find full spectrum lightbulbs and light boxes online and in some big box stores.
These make a huge difference. I keep my light box on my bathroom counter and turn it on when I get ready for work and I’ve noticed a big difference in the way that I feel. There are a lot of options available online. 

Increase Chlorophyll:
Drinking green drinks is analogous to drinking sunlight which helps to boost your energy without creating the crash that you get from drinking caffeine. Green drinks can also help to reduce dark under eye circles and dull looking skin.

Even 5 minutes of exercise can increase the feel good chemicals in your brain and body including Serotonin and can increase your energy and mood levels.
The compounding issue that can happen with exercise is that if you have low energy you may not feel like exercising. 5 minutes makes a huge difference and you’ll feel much better. You can do 5 minutes. Even a walk around the block will have a positive impact on the way you feel. Try to get 5 minutes (or more) a day.

Talk to your primary care physician first; but many people find that taking high quality D3, B6, and B12 vitamins can help reduce their symptoms. Your primary care professional can test you to see if you’re low in these areas and can recommend a good plan for you.

Acupuncturists can support your body during this time and have treatments for people who are impacted by SAD. I’ve personally used acupuncture to help me with my SAD symptoms and have found it to be a very helpful treatment.

Stay Warm:
Spa’s, Sauna’s, Steam Rooms, and Hot Baths can help to reduce any aches you may be feeling from the cold. These warm treatments which increase your core body temperature can help reduce the experience of skin sensitivity and can elevate your mood.

Soft Clothing:
Increased skin sensitivity is a common experience, wear soft and gentle clothing and use soft and gentle bedding. Avoid wearing anything that picks, scratches, or feels uncomfortable in any way. You may find that your own clothes that you can wear when there’s more sunlight can’t be worn during this time.
You aren’t imagining this, your skin is just that much more sensitive.

Fresh Air:
It’s easy to stay inside when it’s cold and dark, but getting clean air in your home and getting outside helps to clear away a lot of the heavy or stagnant energy within and around you. Even if you have to bundle up before you open the windows for a few minutes, it’s okay just do it.

Don’t Push:
Don’t try to force yourself to do more, to plan more, or to be at more places that you need to.
Be very selective about how you spend your time, say no to anything extraneous and save your energy for the things that you really want to do or have to do.

Tell People What You Need:
You might be the only person in your family or friend group who experiences SAD.
Communicate with your loved ones about what you’re experiencing so they understand that you aren’t being “lazy, negative, or just not trying hard enough.”

People who don’t experience this may say things like:

  • “You just need to get up, get going, and push through this, it’s all in your head. Have a better attitude about this and it will all go away.”
  • “You’re responsible for the way you’re feeling, focus on the positive.”
  • "You just need to do what I do; I do ________ and I'm fine; you aren't trying hard enough, you're just making yourself worse by lying around all the time."

These kinds of platitudes aren’t supportive nor are the true since this is a chemical brain and body issue.

While the power of positive thinking, intentions, and actions is real, measurable, and documented in behavioral psychological journals, it doesn’t fully apply here.

It’s important to inform your loved ones about SAD and also let them know how any comments like the one’s above make you feel so they can have more information and better ways to support you.

Drink More Water:
Hydration helps with keeping energy levels high and washes away toxins that could be hanging out in your body.

Go At Your Own Pace:
Your body rhythms might be different from your loved ones; and different from yours when there’s more full spectrum light. It’s important to go at your own pace and let people know what you need.

The truth is that you probably won’t be able to do as many things as you’re used to doing during brighter times of the year. Pushing yourself or forcing yourself to do things could decrease your immune system further and leave you sick.
Hold healthy boundaries, listen to your body, and go at your own pace.
Get comfortable saying no.

Even if you aren’t a napper, if you feel like you need a nap, give yourself permission to take one. Your body does need more rest at this time.

Increase Color and Life:
Bring flowers into your home and or office to literally brighten up your space and mood. While this one might not seem like it would help, it really does.

You can add color to your clothing to help uplift your energy as well.
Color therapy is a real thing, and by adding color in small but significant ways, you can uplift your energy and mood. Soft scarves, colorful jewelry, and shoes can make an impact in the way you feel.

Overall, just be really good to yourself during this time; try different methods to see what works for you. Everybody is different and it’s important to find what works best for you.

I’m wishing you a gentle and easy low light season.
With Love,

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