Q: Every January I go into such a funk. I love the holidays so much, and I really dread putting away my decorations. I usually perk up by spring and I enjoy summer. By fall, I’m looking forward to the holidays again. This year however, I moved, and I feel my January funk early. My mother and sister both have been diagnosed with SAD. If I have that too is there anything I can do with my house to help me feel better?
A: People with SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, suffer from increased feelings of depression during the winter months. Coincidentally, here in the northern hemisphere, the holidays happen at the very beginning of winter. The festivities and events can take our minds off the shorter hours of daylight and colder weather. Once January hits, many people start to feel a little depressed. It’s quite common. Even if you’re not officially diagnosed with SAD, it’s possible the lack of sunlight and vitamin D can still make you feel less energetic and, well, a little sadder than you do in summer.
And, if you’re feeling these symptoms earlier and have moved since last winter, it very well could be something physically different with your house. Does your new place have fewer or smaller windows? Are the spaces more closed off, less open? Are there more trees, tall buildings, or hills around your new neighborhood? Are most of the windows facing north now? All of these can reduce the amount of daylight inside your home.
If you can’t add windows or increase their size, there are other ways to help bring in more light. Choose the lightest colors your lifestyle can handle, including white paint on walls and ceilings, light finishes on the floor, on the furniture, and fabrics. On anything you can change, even off-whites and pale grays and soft neutrals will make a big difference. If the flooring is dark wood, choose light area rugs of natural fibers.
Breezy, sheer window treatments allow more light transmission than darker slatted blinds, heavy drapery panels, or roller shades. Go without window coverings if privacy, insulation, or exterior lights at night aren’t an issue. Make it seem like you have more windows with mirrors across from windows or in a corner next to a window. Use this strategy with large, floor mounted mirrors near glass doors, too.
Change dull, dirty light bulbs for brighter, whiter ones. A layer of dust and grime will make any light bulb less effective, especially in kitchens and bathrooms. For both ceiling lights and lamps, wash the glass shades and replace dark, cloudy, or dingy shades. Larger, flared shades for lamps will spread more light above and below than narrow, cylinder shaped ones. Dimmers will help you control the amount of light for different tasks and moods. And make sure each room has two, three, or more lamps at eye level, even if there is an overhead fixture.
Add sparkle with metallic and shiny finishes and accents. Smooth surfaces, cut glass, mirrors of any size including mosaics, chrome, and silver will all add sparkle and reflect light. Soft textures and earthy natural finishes such as raw wood and matte paint are trendy, but absorb light rather than reflecting it. Use a mix of shiny finishes with softer ones to keep your space bright and comforting without being too sterile or sleek.
But any suggestions for new lamps, white paint and more mirrors is not medical advice. If you’re still feeling sad after making some of these changes or your feelings are not going away, do check in with your doctor.