During the cold, wet days of winter, many of us find ourselves depressed, anxious, and gloomy. For some it’s seasonal depression; for others, it’s the global financial meltdown.
But a few simple changes at home could turn this down time into a time of quiet, reflection, and comfort. Because our indoor environs impacts on our mood, altering colors, light, and scents can banish the blues until the sun shines again … or at least until Daylight Savings Time kicks in.
“Light therapy” simply means sitting under a light box for about half an hour per day at home. You can read, go online, or just sit and enjoy it. According to Dr. Alan Felix, a Manhattan psychiatrist, light therapy has been useful in treating general depression, seasonal depression, and premenstrual mood changes, as well as in regulating sleep disorders. He points out that light therapy has “no real side effects” (he does recommend getting an eye exam first to make sure you have no retinal problems). It’s also great for augmenting medication, and in place of medication for pregnant women who are trying to treat or prevent depression. He adds that people who are bipolar have to use caution and should only use a light box under a doctor’s supervision, since it is possible for light therapy to trigger a manic episode.
The Columbia University Center for Light Studies has discovered that light therapy not only prevents and helps with seasonal depression, but has been used successfully to treat non-seasonal depression. This makes a light box a good year-round investment for those that want a mood enhancer.
Full Spectrum Lightbulbs
If you’re not ready to purchase a light box but still want the warm glow of sunshine indoors, full spectrum compact florescent light bulbs kill two birds with one stone. They use less energy, like all CFLs, but they also emit a warm, white light, close to sunlight. According to independent filmmaker Adam Watstein, cinematographers use two kinds of light on movies, Tungsten and daylight-balanced. The former is for interiors, the latter for any shot that is supposed to replicate daylight. He explains that light boxes and full spectrum bulbs (compact fluorescent or any other kind) replicate daylight at noon and so your brain thinks you are sitting outside. Because the bulbs emit a clean bright white, they often appear bluish to those of us used to warm, yellow light bulbs. The best place to use one is in the darkest part of your living space, but I have them in every lamp in my apartment. I also like to place compact fluorescents near windows, to boost the natural light coming in, another cinematography trick.
To change your mood, Chandler Burr, journalist, author, and New York Times scent critic, recommends scents that are “clean, fresh, and smell pure, not like perfume, which is, by definition, complicated.” He thinks of essence of bergamot, tangerine, and sweet orange. “You smell these and you can’t not smile,” he says. If you can spend a little, he recommends two brands specifically: Caudalie, a French brand that produces many scents, and Fresh, makers of Dry Oil and Sake Bath. Burr instructs to “really allow yourself to smell them. They relax you, and they actually alter your brain.” He thinks of one more, Trilogy, a New Zealand company that produces organic rose hip oil: “Put three to four drops on your skin and rub it in; it’s the most amazingly beautiful, clean rose.” My personal favorite winter scents are rosemary oil, which gives the nervous system a jump-start and geranium, which is my personal cure-all scent. If you choose to experiment with essential oils, buy an aromatherapy oil burner to scent your home, which should cost no more than $20. You can find essential oils at any health food store and at some specialty stores.
Color Your Mood
One easy way to create an uplifting mood indoors is to add some color. If you aren’t ready to paint the walls, think about switching out pillow colors, adding a new rug, or accenting with lamps, vases, or paintings.
What colors will bring joy? Yellow is often thought to provide a cheerful, stimulating, and optimistic feeling. Alternatively, red, purple, and oranges are warm, rich colors that can create a sense of energy and fire in a cold environment. Ultimately, however, it boils down to whatever colors you like and make you feel happy. Decorate with these and they will be sure to lift your mood.
Feel Good Plants
Amaryllis and narcissus are the old standbys for some winter cheer, and for good reason. The shocking fresh red of an amaryllis changes an entire room and makes it feel cleaner and healthier. The pleasant scent and look of narcissus are also a sure fire way to put a smile on your face. Even a common indoor plant can improve the feeling of a room. Plants not only clean the air of carbon dioxide, but tending to something and watching it grow has been shown to improve wellbeing. A 2004 study in the Scandinavian Journal of Psychology found that having a plant in a room can increase mood and improve performance on tasks.
If you feel like you just can’t tolerate the cold conditions anymore, take some comfort in the fact that you’re not alone. Everyone struggles with some degree of winter blues and cabin fever. In the meantime, enjoy your last weeks of quasi-hibernation, because spring is in the air.