Are you feeling a little disheartened? This week’s contentious presidential election is hard on everyone whether you voted red OR blue. Coming on top of an especially rough year, it’s not a surprise if your mental health isn’t what it used to be.
But don’t go blaming 2020 for your problems just yet. It might not be the only reason you aren’t your usual cheerful self.
The weekend before Election Day, we went through our annual change back from Daylight Time to Standard Time in the United States. The 60 minutes we adjusted our clocks suddenly makes us aware we are slowly losing daylight. Every day now by a few minutes at a time, days will darken until we reach the winter solstice on December 21 – just six weeks away.
Without the artificial time change, we would naturally adjust over the summer months into fall gradually. We interrupt this natural adjustment by bringing it on all at once. We try to fool our internal biological clocks by forcing ourselves to follow an artificial time schedule. But Mother Nature is ready to fight back and she is undefeated.
Different chronotypes – which is your genetic tendency to be an early bird or a night owl – feel the effects of time changes in different ways.
First of all, your sleep quality can suffer. If you are already burning the candle at both ends by trying to work from home, oversee your kids’ school schedule, and are worrying about a pandemic, it doesn’t take a lot more to affect your sleep cycle.
Night owls are hit hardest by the transition out of daylight time. People who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), can be hit with anything from a case of feeling down in the dumps to serious, life-threatening depression.
Without the mental and physical restoration of quality sleep, your cognitive processes are slowed down. Imagine a sink drain clogged up with gunk. That’s your brain on no sleep. Your thoughts don’t flow through completely along your nerve circuits. Your thinking suffered. The only good news is that it’s not your imagination.
It’s the time change, not the political news
We’re already having trouble relaxing because of the blurring between home, work, and school. Now they all take place in the same few rooms for a lot of people. Your brain never gets a break.
One more piece of bad news: Poor quality sleep can lead to weight gain, because your metabolism is constantly tired. Your body tells you to eat for energy, because it can’t restore itself through sleep. And you thought it was just the COVID-19 sourdough bread!
So blame your mood on nature first, not the ballot box.
It has become my life’s work at Good Earth Plant Company to enrich people’s lives with nature, specifically using plants. Understanding the role of sunlight is all part of this. It’s amazing to realize how deeply our physical and mental health is tied to the rhythms of nature.
A mere hour time change shouldn’t matter so much, should it? But it does. This is tied to the phenomenon of circadian rhythms, the 24-hour cycle of human physiological processes including brain activity, cell regeneration, and other biological functions, which are affected by light and temperature.
This year, we’re also spending more time than ever in an artificial environment in the work-from-home universe. For a lot of people, the only time they ever got outside and saw the world was their daily commute, and it’s gone. Without the presence of natural cues, our health suffers. It’s true for all sorts of natural influences, not just light. This is what the study of biophilia, the human connection to all of nature’s living systems, is about.
You can improve your health and reduce your mental fog and anxiety by recreating the natural environment indoors. The more we can simulate nature by providing bright natural light, clean air without chemical exposure, and adding plants (my favorite!), the better we will feel and function day to day.
So turn off the election news – and get outside for some gardening and plant therapy.
When we ignore our need for connection to the environment, we suffer. We can blame it on a lot of other causes, but sometimes the fix is something we can actually control, that’s good news in a dark world. Light is a fundamental requirement for human, animal, and plant physiology. Doesn’t it seem intuitive to you that sitting inside from 9 to 5 (or much longer) every day would get you down, even without worrying about politics?
Boost your health with exposure to daylight and living plants
Getting outside, breathing fresh air and letting your vision take in the colors and mental cues of nature is an antidote worth trying. When this isn’t an option, improving the atmosphere inside your home interior during the darker, cooler months when you are forced to stay inside more often can improve your mood, make you feel more energetic and less depressed.
Having living plants inside can boost your immune system by reducing stress, and breathing in the oxygenated air. Employees in workplaces take less sick days if their office spaces have plants. This fall and winter your workplace is your home.
There is also a powerful psychological benefit to having plants indoors. People just feel better when there are plants around. So green up your home office this winter.
One last word from your friends at Good Earth Plant Company. We care about you. Don’t hesitate to reach out for more help if your feelings run deeper than the disappointment in the presidential election. Depression should never be ignored and can have serious consequences.
Don’t keep your feelings inside. There is help for people who suffer from any kind of depression.
If you or someone you care about is experiencing a suicidal or mental health crisis, please call the County of San Diego’s Up2SD Access and Crisis Line at (888) 724-7240. Trained and experienced counselors are available seven days a week, 24 hours a day to help with support, referrals, and crisis intervention. You can also call if you just need to talk, have questions about how to offer support, or if you are looking for information about community resources and referrals.