We survived another daylight savings time indicating Fall is officially here. You may notice a longing for light, feeling lethargic, and craving comfort foods. Fall is a time of slowing down for all living things including humans. Before artificial light humans slept for 16 hours a day in the fall and winter. We stored food for the winter and feasted in celebration of light returning. I believe we need to honor those ingrained behaviors from our ancestors. We should not feel shame for sleeping more or wanting high calorie foods.
However, if you notice your mood really takes a hit during this time there are things you can do. I recommend using a light box (at least 10,000 lux) which tries to mimic sunlight. You want to use it for at least 15 minutes every day. You need it to be positioned at eye level because UV light enters through the iris (black part of the eye) and travels to the brain. If you believe you suffer from SAD (seasonal affectiveness disorder) please see a psychiatrist for an evaluation.
You also need to exercise, preferably in the early morning when UV light is strongest. I know getting up early is not for everyone, especially teens, but you can develop a habit. Some people sleep in workout clothes or lay them out the night before. It usually takes 30 days to form a habit so keep that in mind when embarking on a morning exercise routine.
You can also focus on the holidays. I find having something exciting to look forward to helps to improve mood. You can engage in a new holiday tradition or learn something new like baking holiday treats. Distraction is a great technique to help with feelings of boredom, loneliness, sadness, etc. that are associated with low mood.
Altruism is also a mood booster because it increases feel good hormones in our brains. We need to give back to those less fortunate than ourselves. Community service is a great empathy builder for teens.
I believe holding an awareness and gratitude for this time of the year will help alleviate mood issues. We are wired to slow down and that’s a good thing. In the spring many people feel renewed energy to tackle new challenges.
*Teenagers have a biological cycle to go to sleep late and wake up late. If you notice your teen sleeping for inordinate amounts of time (12+ hours a day) and it’s not from an environmental cause (sleepover, studying for a big exam, athletic competition, etc.) please see your primary care doctor for a referral to a psychiatrist to evaluate for mood disorders.