Everywhere on our planet, albeit at different times of the year depending on where you live, the elongated orbit we take around the sun brings us increased darkness as the sun takes a little longer to rise and sets earlier at the end of the day. Where I am in Canada, here I sit at 5:50 a.m. and outside is completely dark.
Now were this a couple of month’s ago, there’d be light outside. Our summer is waning and Autumn is moving in. While it’s many people’s favourite time of year, for others, this prevailing darkness which shortens our hours of daylight is of great concern. The darkness outside touches a darkness within; moods change, some cocoon themselves away, contact with others is restricted, it’s harder to get going in the morning and there can be a prevailing sense of anxiety, worry, stress and depression.
Some of us adapt to this change in light better than others. If your job is to record the attendance figures for your organization, you may note patterns of absenteeism, increased use of mental health days, and even when people are at work, there can be a drop in productivity for some individuals. This isn’t just a case of lazy workers, but may be attributed to this period of reduced natural light.
For many people, there will soon be days of commuting to work in the darkness and again commuting home in the dark. Not everyone has the benefit of sitting with a window out into the world around them, and so it’s possible that without making a conscious effort to get out for a walk at midday, one could travel to work in the dark, never see the light of day and then return home in the dark. Now if this goes on from Monday to Friday, that’s a huge block of time being deprived of daylight.
There’s a name for this condition which negatively impacts some people; seasonal affective disorder. (Isn’t there a name these days for everything?) It’s important to remember that such a condition is not someone voluntarily choosing to be so affected. This isn’t a conscious choice to be moody; it’s not something one can, ‘snap out of’. It’s a state of mental health.
Just like many other mental health conditions, it’s invisible to the eye though. I mean there’s no walking cast or arm in a sling that gives us a visual clue to someone’s condition. Those affected may actually do their best to compensate for their mood by forcing smiles, laughing along at things they don’t really find funny; in other words, doing their best to appear to be their normal self. They aren’t sick in the sense of having a virus nor is there a need to be walking around with a box of tissues at hand.
Now you and I who aren’t affected to the extent these people are might still find ourselves missing the sun. We all have an awareness of the lack of light in the morning and evening – all of us. However, those impacted to the point where it affects their mental health experience this lack of light differently. They may not know what the problem is defined as, they may just feel they aren’t themselves. Without knowing it’s the deprivation of natural sunlight, they may just brood more than normal wondering, “what’s wrong with me?”
Now take this condition and add to it unemployment. For many unemployed people, waking up and consciously realizing there’s no job to go to is in itself a depressing state. Looking for work as you know takes focus, energy, commitment, a strength to face the disappointments of outright rejection, being passed over for someone else or getting no feedback at all on jobs applied to. When you add in the negative impact of what we know to be Seasonal Affective Disorder, well, you’ve got someone who should be ramping up their job search but who is weighed down and not at their best. Worst of all, on the outside, they appear to be normal.
So, what can be done? Well, like many first steps, getting in touch with your physician is a good idea. A check up might be in order. Yes, and be honest when you see him or her. Even if you’ve got a 1 p.m. appointment on a sunny day and your mood has improved, it’s incumbent on you to share openly and honestly about how you experience your days. Many tend to downplay their mental health; wanting to appear ‘normal’, to come across as in good shape and in control; able to handle themselves. But if you conceal what you experience, you won’t get the help you need. Like the toothache that somehow disappears the day of the dental appointment, you’ll regret not being open and honest with your doctor who can’t treat what they don’t know.
Secondly, get out in the daylight. Go for a walk and clear your head. Make a point of looking out a window during the day if possible. Consider some vitamin tablets to compensate with what you miss from the sun.
Most of all, do your best to engage when your instincts tell you to withdraw and isolate yourself. Your thoughts will go to darker places if you’re alone. And finally, open up and share how you’re doing; this is a strength my friend.
We’re all in this together.