The shortest day of the year is on 21 December
by Brian Radcliffe
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To explore our understanding of the psychological effects of light deprivation (SEAL theme: Managing Feelings).
Preparation and materials
Further information about seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is available on the NHS website at: http://tinyurl.com/bqex3o9
Are you sad? Feeling a bit down? Finding it hard to drag yourself out of bed in the dim light of a cold winter’s morning? Got nothing to look forward to? I suspect we all suffer a little from the effects of SAD. It’s a recognized medical condition known as seasonal affective disorder and it occurs particularly as the days get shorter and darker. The NHS website lists its typical symptoms as low mood; lack of interest in normal everyday activities; irritability; feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness; a lack of energy; sleeping for longer than normal; and cravings for carbohydrate-rich food, resulting in weight gain. Recognize any of these? I’m sure many of you do.
It’s thought that SAD is probably connected to the fact that our bodies are exposed to a reduced amount of sunlight during winter days. On the one hand, this may disrupt our body clock (especially after the clocks go back an hour at the end of October). On the other hand, the reduction in our exposure to sunlight appears to reduce the production of certain ‘happy hormones’ by parts of the brain. Some people suffer severe depression because of this. Most of us at least feel a bit down.
So, what can we do to brighten up our lives in the winter? In part, the answer for most of us is obvious: we seek out light wherever and whenever it may be found. Those who have enough money take a sunshine break, usually during the February half-term. It may be winter mountain sun, gliding over crisp snow. It may be Majorca or the Canaries, soaking up the sun on the beach. However, most of us need to take a more creative approach. This may mean simply looking out for the sun and, whenever it is shining, getting out in it for a walk (exercise in itself also helps). Inside, we can sit near the windows (although we mustn’t disrupt the teacher’s seating plan) and try to ensure that our rooms are light and airy. It’s even possible to buy light boxes that simulate sunlight inside a home. Note that these are not the same as sunbeds at a tanning salon.
Time for reflection
Jesus lived in a different climate from ours, but he recognized that light is an important image for describing what is best in life. He described himself as ‘the light of the world’. He promised that anyone who followed him would not stumble through the gloom. They would have the light of life.
What might Jesus mean by this? Christians believe that Jesus meant that he would help his followers to see that there is a positive side to whatever they might be going through. They can be optimists. Christians believe that Jesus is like a good friend who can listen, support and work towards the best solutions. They believe that Jesus is the light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, he sometimes floods the whole tunnel with light.
More than this, Jesus told his followers that, because they have his light with them, they can be like a light for the world, too. This relates to another way to alleviate the symptoms of SAD: by talking about how we are feeling. First, we can be honest with close friends about our feelings. Then, we can talk about ways in which we could alter the way we feel. We can encourage one another to focus on the good things that are going on. Some people start the day by thinking of three or more things that they are looking forward to. One might be something as simple as what’s in their lunch box! Another might be a sporting event or TV programme. At the end of the day, they do the opposite, thinking back to three or more experiences that they enjoyed or felt successful in. The aim is that gradually, we train the brain to see the light rather than the darkness. That’s part of what Jesus was talking about. We share the light among us.
So, what is your mood today? If you’re feeling upbeat and happy, why not shine your light out for others to share? If you’re feeling down, try some of the strategies we’ve considered.
What’s the weather like today?
Pretend to peer through the window and give a weather report.
Grab all the sunshine you can. Stay out of the gloom.
What’s the date today? Soon, it will be Thursday 21 December, which is the shortest day of the year for us. It’s known as the winter solstice. It’s the day when countries in the northern hemisphere, like us, see the sun for the shortest time. Let’s be prepared. We can all let the sunshine in by one means or another.
Thank you for light in a dark world, wherever it may come from.
Please help us to look at the good parts of our lives whenever we are tempted to fall into the gloom.
May we be light for one another.
‘Walking on sunshine’ by Katrina and the Waves