When we have a better understanding of the factors that can make us have different needs to other people we share our lives with, it makes it easier to think about ways we can all meet our own needs. We encourage everyone to ‘live your light ideal’ – identify and meet your own light nutrition needs so you can feel happier, healthier and more productive all year round. You deserve to live your fullest life and achieve your goals – so let’s remove some obstacles.
1. Tune into your light nutrition needs
Becoming aware of your own light nutrition needs by considering which factors might influence them is the first step. Tune into how you feel in different environments and at different times of the day and year. Ask yourself:
- Are there any patterns I can recognise in how I feel at different times of the day or year and what impact does it have on my life?
- What chronotype am I – an early bird or a night owl, or somewhere in between?
- Am I avoiding or do I dislike being in certain environments? Why is that?
- How well do I sleep?
- What would I change about the environments I spend my time in?
- Where do I feel most comfortable?
- How often do I get daylight either by going out or being near a window?
You might find it difficult to tune into your feelings and needs if you’ve become used to ignoring them. This is where some work on boundaries and practising breathwork through meditation or yoga can be helpful, as these help you to reconnect with your body and identify what you need.
2. Generate ideas of what you can change
As many of the factors are fixed and you can’t change them, you can think about the ways that you can adapt your environment and behaviour to suit your own needs.
Some ideas for you might be:
- Investing in a dawn simulator/wake up light that helps your body to wake with steadily increasing light
- Using a SAD light soon after you get up while you enjoy your morning coffee or breakfast
- Installing or changing blinds so that you can better control the light if glare or getting too hot next to the window is an issue at certain times of the day – just remember to open them when you can – you can also use a propped up parasol/umbrella or a stick-on car shade if you don’t want to block all the light but need some shade
- Making sure your bedroom is as dark as possible and investing in light-blocking blinds or curtains or using an eye mask to sleep
- Moving your desk nearer to a window
- Get a task light for your workspace
- Assess what lights you have in your home and consider adding to or changing them – for example, can you turn off your ‘big light’ in your living room an hour or more before bed and put on a dimmer, warmer lamp? Are you getting blasts of intense and cool light in your kitchen and bathroom as you get ready for bed? Could you add a dimmer, warmer light for evening and night-time use? Candles can be a great option
- If you spend your daylight hours at home working or looking after children and you’re not in your brightest room, could you switch to spending more time there?
- Assess whether there’s anything that’s blocking natural light coming into your home that you could change – things such as tall furniture and plants in the window, overgrown trees or hedges, heavy net curtains or darker-coloured voile
- Assess how the colour of your walls, furniture, soft furnishings and decorations work for you at different times of the day and year and in different light conditions – do they reflect light or absorb it? Consider how you use your rooms – if it’s one you spend the most time in through the daytime, you might want to maximise light with a lighter scheme. Working from home might have changed what you need from your room – cosy was okay when you were coming home in the evening to the room but now you’re working there during the day it might not feel right. You might reserve darker schemes for bedrooms to maximise the dark and cosy feeling there
Sometimes, you may feel like you don’t have much control over your environment – for example, if you live or work in a building that you can’t make changes to yourself, or the changes you can make are not proving enough to meet your needs. It’s worth making the changes that you can and assessing whether they help. If not, then you may want to consider some bigger lifestyle changes, such as changing where you live, where you work or even moving cities or countries.
These might seem quite drastic, especially to other people, but if you’re being badly affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder and you have exhausted other avenues, then for the sake of reclaiming your years and being able to live the life you want, you might consider bigger changes.
- Set yourself a bedtime and wake time that suits your chronotype (where possible) and stick to these every day to keep your circadian rhythm (body clock) entrained
- Set yourself mealtimes and keep to them each day to help keep your circadian rhythm entrained
- Get to work a little earlier, then take a break once it’s light to take a walk in the morning light
- Take a Vitamin D supplement in autumn and winter and if needed, all year round
- Check if your computer, tablet and mobile phone have a night shift mode or blue light filter and set them to auto or adjust to suit yourself
- Set yourself a ‘wind down’ reminder at least an hour before bed (you could use your phone or personal assistant device if you have them)
- Take a few minutes’ fresh air and daylight outside while the kettle boils on your breaks
- When commuting on public transport, get off a stop or two earlier and walk in daylight
- Use a weather app to check the forecast and see when it will be driest/brightest for getting outdoors
- Make sure you have the right clothing and accessories with you to keep you comfortable in any weather – think about waterproofs, footwear, hat, scarf, gloves, umbrella, sunglasses, suncream and water
- Open your curtains and blinds as soon as you get up
- Use a habit tracker to set reminders and track your habits (like getting out for daily light) to help motivate you to keep a chain going
- Use a mood tracker (whether a digital app or physical journal) to help identify patterns in how you’re feeling and track whether the changes you make help
- If you’re a teenager or you’re organising activities for teenagers, make plans for later in the day than you otherwise might
- Consider if it’s possible to flex your schedule so you can start work earlier or later if you feel it would benefit you
- Speak with your employer about taking breaks to get daylight if needed – if you are diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder your doctor might give you a note to instruct your employer to make reasonable adjustments as SAD is a type of major depression covered under the Equality Act 2010 in the UK
- Prepare for clock changes by shifting your bedtime and wake time later (autumn) or earlier (spring) by 15-20 minutes over three to four days before the change
- Ask for support from loved ones, as sometimes it can be easier for others to spot the changes in your mood and behaviour that come with experiencing Viitamin D deficiency, Seasonal Affective Disorder, Winter Blues or circadian disruption. Ask them to let you know if they have any concerns and they can also help by encouraging you in healthy habits
3. Make a plan and take action
Once you have some ideas, plan which ones you’ll do first and what you need to do. Consider any barriers and how you can overcome them. You might need to consider people you live or work with and have a conversation about the changes you want to make and how they might affect them.
Start by making the changes that are easiest and cheapest to do and see whether they help. You could use a journal or mood tracker to encourage you to keep tuning in to how you feel as you change your environment and behaviours to meet your needs. You can always add more changes later and drop anything that isn’t working for you.
Remember that your needs might change across the year, so you can plan for any changes you might need to make. For example, you might flex your hours in autumn and winter so you can get out once the sun has risen. Keep tuning in day-to-day and paying attention to how you’re feeling in different environments throughout the year. Let your plans be flexible according to your needs.
4. Keep it going
Some of the changes you make will be one-time and you’ll get a sense fairly quickly if you like them or they’re helpful or not. Others will need to become daily habits for at least part of the year. Habits take time to form and you’ll need to put effort in at the beginning until it becomes automatic. Use whatever tools you have to help you – whether it’s a habit tracker, setting daily reminders, an accountability partner or journalling.
As with any new or changing habits, mindset plays a big part in your success. It can be helpful to have a strong reason for why you want to make changes, so create and tap into a powerful vision. Tell yourself what you need to hear to motivate you. Give yourself rewards for hitting milestones and be self-compassionate when you miss doing an action – it’s okay. Get back on track as soon as you realise you have temporarily strayed from your habit and watch your thoughts around it – reframe them positively where you need to. So for example, if you tell yourself you failed or you’re no good, tell yourself instead that you had a blip and you’ll be back on track by doing the action now, you’re forming new habits and it takes a little time, etc.
Living your light ideal isn’t just one thing, one time. It’s a regular awareness of how your environment and behaviours make you feel, identifying what you need and meeting those needs. Making small changes can make a huge difference to your energy levels and mood. Being happier, healthier and more productive will have a positive effect on your whole life and help you reach for your most important goals to make the difference you want to make in the world. Isn’t that worth fighting for?