How To Survive Winter Solstice, The Darkest Day of the Year

I tell anyone who will listen to me that the week of Winter Solstice is the most stressful and hectic week of the year. There’s the running around trying to get presents, the navigating of various family drama, meals to plan, cookies to bake and work projects that need to be completed before the holiday ‘break.’ It’s supposed to be a fun time of year but the fact is when December 21st rolls around, I’m tapped of any goodwill. It can’t be a coincidence that the darkest day of the year, and official start to winter, occurs in tandem with such personal darkness.

But this is a #firstworldproblem, as well as a ‘glass is half-full’ or ‘half-empty’ scenario because December 21st is also the shortest day of the year, which means it is the shortest workday too.

I asked naturopath Angelina Riopel of Innate Wellness in Toronto, why, in this time of global warming when temperatures are scarily warm, are some so affected by winter. She says in the winter months, people are divided into two camps, those who are sensitive to cold, and those who are sensitive to dark. I’m on the dark side.

“Seasonal changes in sunlight and temperature effect the circadian rhythm which is body’s internal clock.  The circadian rhythm regulates the sleep-wake cycle and many other processes of the body and is influenced by environmental cues such as sunlight and temperature.  Sunlight stimulates serotonin, our happy, mood-stabilizing neurotransmitter via the eyes, and melatonin, our sleep hormone, is influenced by darkness and lack of light,” she says.

Our hormones and neurotransmitters are upset with the change of seasons and light exposure, explains Riopel.  Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or the ‘winter blues’ effects those most susceptible and to varying degrees, and is characterized by changes in mood, irritability, depression, appetite changes and food cravings for mainly carbohydrates.

But Winter Solstice is a time to celebrate because it represents the turning of the sun. The actual event lasts only one second, when the Sun is at its greatest distance from the equatorial plane and shines directly over the Tropic of Capricorn for those in the northern hemisphere (December 21 5:44am, here in Canada).

The days will soon get longer, and the summer will arrive eventually. Someday. Somewhere. Parties are held all around the world (including Toronto and Vancouver) to mark Winter Solstice. But if you can’t make it to one, here are some tools for bridging the dark lethargy of winter.

Therapeutic light boxes
Those susceptible to the winter blues but not summer depression, are often responsive to light therapy.  Along with regular sunlight exposure, therapeutic light boxes have been used successfully in supportive treatment of SAD. Some light boxes on the market include the Happylight, Phillips Wake-Up Light and the Vitamin D Lamp.

Fight tired face
Skincare is all the more important during the winter. Not only is your skin getting dried out but seasonal exhaustion and fatigue can make you feel worse. Try Ole Henriksen Vitamin Plus or Body Shop Vitamin C Facial Cleansing Polish to keep your skin as refreshed as possible.

Gimme a D!
“Vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin and has a hormonal action that positively affects mood,” says Riopel of Innate Wellness in Toronto who suggests testing vitamin D levels in spring and fall will allow you to determine what your is your optimum vitamin level. “Vitamin D would be at its highest at the end of summer and lowest in the spring.” And while it might go against every fashionable bone in your body, ditch the sunglasses. “Get outside, especially when it’s sunny,” says Riopel. “Take a walk even for 20 minutes per day, but without sunglasses. Light sensitive pigment within the retina are believed to have a role in resetting circadian rhythm and helping balance mood.”