By Amy Heydlauff
For centuries mankind has celebrated the darkest day of the year. This practice gave rise to the choice of timing for our Christmas and other faith based celebrations. The winter solstice, December 23rd, has the shortest amount of daylight of any day of the year. Add Michigan’s often cloudy sky and it can be a dark day, indeed.
The good news? On December 24ththe days begin to lengthen and by late January there is an appreciable increase in the amount of available sunlight.
About one in five adults develop variable levels of a dark mood during the dark days of winter. Some suffer from seasonal affective disorder which is thought to be linked to the decrease in natural light. In fact, it is treated with sunlamps. Until recently, no one understood how or why light impacts our moods.
A recent study found the key. There are previously unknown receptors in the retina of our eyes, that aren’t related or even necessary for sight. Through MRI studies they discovered these light receptors have a direct link to the front of our brain – a place that is highly associated with mood, and what science refers to as ‘affect’. When the word affect is used as a noun it refers to our emotions; especially their impact on our behavior and actions.
When I heard about this study I was certainly interested in this new information. But what really struck me was the how complicated we are. The retina is a tiny part of the eye, which is a small organ in our bodies. It’s been studied and studied and studied. How is it this recently discovered receptor was missed? What else is going on in our retina, eye, brain, body that is yet to be discovered? My belief is there is more still unknown than known.
And that brings me to health and wellness. I’ve written before about how the science changes regarding the amount of exercise, type of exercise, type of food and even growing or preparation of food. I believe in science. I love the idea we can dig down into something and discover things like new receptors. But buyer beware of following every study from the margins of science. For most of us, the smartest thing is common sense. And here is where common sense gets me.
Grandma was right. Eat your vegetables. Go outside and play (or walk). Don’t over-indulge in anything but especially not tobacco (or chips, alcohol, Oreos, marijuana…). Find a faith or some other community (collection of like-minded people) in which to belong. Enjoy time with friends. Get enough sleep.
More current health recommendations include regularly disconnecting from screens, including your phone. Especially before bed.
It’s a new year. We all have big plans for making it the best year ever and many of us include our health as part of that commitment. Keep it simple, like Grandma. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Ask your Grandma, doctor, nurse practitioner, minister, pharmacist – you can even call our office and we’ll try to assist you in finding the help you need to address health, wellness, substance abuse, loneliness, depressed mood, or other issues, if we can (734-433-4599).
And rejoice because, here comes the sun (nah-nah-nah-nah). Here comes the sun!