Reclaiming What Daylight Savings Steals: How to Prevent Seasonal Depression

Words by Mallory Pace

 

I have a bone to pick with whomever came up with daylight saving time. It’s a concept I have never fully grasped, no matter how many times it’s been mansplained to me. Each year we “spring forward” just to “fall back” a few months later, and each time havoc is wreaked on our daily routines. It’s not the “springing forward” part I have an issue with, no, it’s the “falling back” that catches me by surprise each year. Who wants to “fall back” anyway? It just sounds depressing. But alas, on the first Sunday of November, we turn our clocks back an hour and the premonition of imminent gloom replaces our beloved sunlight.  

 

OK, that might be a tad dramatic, but if you’re like me, these next few months feel like hell. It started a few years ago, when I began to notice my mood shift during the last phase of the year. I chalked it up to the stress of the holidays and colder weather that was depressing my mood. I found that on days where the sun was especially present and it was warm enough to spend time outside, I was noticeably happier … shocker. That’s when I discovered I was experiencing seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, (how fitting!) and that my mood changes were a result of, you guessed it, daylight f*cking savings. 

 

About 5% of Americans experience seasonal depression, and it typically lasts about 40% of the year, according to the American Psychiatric Association. It’s more common among women than men (of course), and it’s been linked to a chemical imbalance in the brain catalyzed by shorter daylight hours and decreased sunlight exposure. Vitamin D is produced in our bodies in the presence of sunlight and it’s a major factor in our serotonin levels, according to the Seasonal Affective Disorder Association (SADA). To make matters worse, decreased sunlight exposure increases our melatonin levels, making us sleepier and more fatigued. The severity of SAD varies with each person, and symptoms appear in different forms and magnitudes. 

 

Experiencing seasonal depression is different from feeling “winter blues,” and serious symptoms of depression should be addressed with a healthcare provider or a therapist. But you don’t have to be considerably depressed to want to combat the feelings these next few months provoke. Symptoms of SAD include, but are not limited to, increased sleep and daytime drowsiness, loss of interest and pleasure in activities formerly enjoyed, irritability and anxiety, feelings of guilt and hopelessness, etc. Safe to say, these are not great feelings to have, but it’s even more frustrating when it’s difficult to pinpoint the cause or trigger. You can’t make the sun stay out longer, nor can you change the weather. So how do you prevent or mitigate symptoms of SAD before it swallows you whole?

 

Unfortunately, there’s no rulebook or guidelines on how to achieve this, but there are certain habits, routines and tricks that might help, at least a little. To start, and I honestly hate to say it, but exercise really does help. According to the Mayo Clinic, exercising releases “feel-good” endorphins, which help ease depression and anxiety. Doing 30 minutes or more of exercise a day for three to five days a week may significantly improve depression or anxiety symptoms, the Mayo Clinic suggests. Exercise can mean anything that moves your body and increases your heart rate, so feel free to get creative with how you choose to exercise. This also might be a good time to spend more time with others and less time in bed. It may seem nearly impossible sometimes, but being out of the house and around other people is a great start. You could try joining a beginner sports league or one of the various Jacksonville running groups. This will help move your body while staying social. Recognizing depressive symptoms is also vital to mitigating them. 

 

Studies also suggest being outside and exposed to sunlight can improve depressive moods. As Floridians, we’re lucky enough that the sun never really goes away during the day and the colder weather is tame, but prioritizing time outside is still crucial. A two-birds-with-one-stone approach might look like exercising outside and basking in the sun, you know, like a lizard. If that doesn’t work, you can imitate the sunlight in your own bedroom with a SAD lamp, which emits a bright, white light similar in spectrum to that of the sun. SADA suggests sitting in front of the lamp for at least 30 minutes right when you wake up to help regulate the body’s circadian rhythm and improve energy levels throughout the day. Hell, I might get a SAD lamp to use year-round. 

 

If you feel especially low or unmotivated, don’t push yourself. SADA suggests to set realistic goals in light of the depression, “break large tasks into small ones, set priorities and do what you can as you can.” It sounds abstract, but developing and practicing a positive mindset might help you make it to spring. Listening to positive podcasts, reading self-help books (or any books, for that matter), trying guided meditation and journaling your thoughts are great ways to get your mindset into shape. Winter months might make you feel vulnerable, but try making conscious decisions and intentional choices in your life these next few months. Don’t run away from bad feelings or shut down at the first sight of fatigue — push through and push hard. 

 

Where does daylight savings come from, anyway?

 

I find the whole concept a bit contradictory. You’re telling me we can manipulate time and sunlight, but we can’t print more money? OK. So, who do we blame for the creation of this seemingly meaningless, man-made, socially constructed concept? Apparently, not the farmers. I vividly remember learning that daylight savings was created so farmers had more time to work in the field, but it turns out they were actually against it. I don’t know where the miscommunication came from but someone should probably let my middle school teacher know so she can apologize to the farmers. It was first used in Germany in 1916 to conserve coal usage during World War I, which the U.S. shortly followed suit. The concept is mostly centered around conserving energy with the logic being that if the summer sunlight lasts longer into the evening, there’s one less hour of darkness needing to be lit, cooled or heated.

 

Sen. Marco Rubio introduced the Sunshine Protection Act to the Senate in 2018, a bill that would adopt a permanent daylight savings time across the U.S. It was sent to the House of Representatives where it failed to pass because, here’s the kicker, they couldn’t agree on which time zone to adopt. I mean come on, you can’t write this stuff.  Rubio reintroduced it in March, but the law awaits to be voted on until the House can come to an agreement, so don’t hold your breath. If we can’t agree that shorter days and less sunlight is a bad idea, what can we agree on? In fact, extra daylight means extra time to spend money … isn’t that what this country is all about?! 

 

Whatever the reason, and whoever to blame is irrelevant. If we’re going to continue with daylight savings, we should rebrand it. We should take back what we lose in those extra dark hours and reclaim our power. Just because the sun is setting, doesn’t mean we have to. Seasonal depression is very real, but it doesn’t have to be debilitating and take away from the fun of the holidays. Kickstart healthy habits, be kind to yourself and breathe … it’ll be over before you know it. 

About Mallory Pace

Friends and family knew Mallory Pace would become a writer when she wrote and illustrated a hand-made children’s book in the third grade for her class to read. It didn’t indicate a prodigy-in-the-making, but all the elements of a good storyline were there, waiting to be improved. Now, Mallory is about to graduate from the University of North Florida with a multimedia journalism degree and minors in political science and marketing, with which she hopes to continue storytelling and exploring avenues of multimedia journalism. In Mallory's free time, you’ll either find her taking her cat, Peter, on a walk via stroller, or galavanting around the beaches.