For most people, the end of daylight saving is sad news. Gone is the lingering sunlight that makes after-work strolls and adventures easier. Instead, it’s suddenly dark at 5.30pm. And with everything else that’s going on right now, the prospect of less sunlight might feel like too much to bear. We asked three experts for their tips on how to maintain mental health when we turn the clocks back an hour on Sunday April 5.
Treat daylight saving like a case of jet lag
According to Alex Parker, professor of physical activity and mental health at Victoria University, the change to daylight saving can have an effect on some people that’s similar to mild jet lag. So act like you’ve just changed time zones: expose yourself to sunlight in the morning, get some exercise during the day, cut down on alcohol and get a good night’s sleep until your circadian rhythms are back on track. And if you have kids, start shifting their wake-up time and bedtime later by 15-minute increments in the days leading up to the change.
Be gentle with yourself
“When we’re faced with shorter daylight hours we can feel like our days are shorter too. It can feel near impossible to accomplish everything we want to in the daylight hours available to us, and we can become easily overwhelmed, anxious, or low in mood,” says clinical psychologist Lisa Harrison.
So give yourself permission to relax your regular standards and just go easy on yourself. If the news is making you anxious or talking to people is overwhelming you, allow yourself to switch off for a little while. Think about what you need to feel more calm and content. If it’s not feasible to do it straight away, schedule in time for it. It might feel like time is limited but if you care for yourself, you’ll be more productive in the long run and able to care for others in a more sustained way. “Remember the basics of first aid: make yourself safe first and then you can care for the people that might need you,” says Harrison.
Embrace the season
The days have been getting shorter for months, but the sudden time change can make winter’s approach feel more confronting. So take a moment to consciously acknowledge the change of the seasons and farewell what was – let’s be real – a terrible summer. Try to anticipate the things that can be nice about winter, like cosying up with a book and a cup of tea. It’s also a good time for self-reflection, says Harrison, especially in this time of increased solitude.
“The transition to shortened days is a time where we can go inward, take stock, and think about whether there is anything you would like to be different in your life,” she says. She adds that it can also be a time to make longer-term plans, so think about what you’d like to do when this is all over. It’s a nice reminder that the pandemic, just like the season, will eventually pass.
Get more exercise
Physical activity isn’t just good for your body, it’s good for your mind as well. It improves your mood, relieves stress and anxiety, and boosts positive feelings of confidence and achievement. But you need to be doing an activity you enjoy and find rewarding to get those benefits. “Engaging in housework or having an active job don’t seem to have the same mental-health benefits as physical activity that’s undertaken during leisure time or as active transport,” says Prof Parker. So it’s not just about moving more, it’s about finding ways of moving that you enjoy – and doing them more often.
According to Prof Parker, the vast majority of Australians don’t meet the physical activity guidelines for their age. So if doing a moderate rather than a high-intensity activity means you’ll ultimately exercise more, that’s what you should do to support your mental health. She recommends making physical activity a part of your daily routine, and says doing it at the end of your workday can help separate professional and personal time when working from home. But if the darker evenings make you less likely to exercise, she suggests shifting it to the daylight hours instead.
We know we’re sounding like a broken record here – see our story on mindfulness in the time of coronavirus – but the thing about mindfulness is the more you do it, the better you become at it, and the more effective it is in helping you find calm and balance.
Here are some simple ways to practise being mindful:
Acknowledge your emotions, even the difficult ones. According to Harrison it’s important not to gloss over your emotional state and the situation you find yourself in, but instead to validate and accept how you’re feeling. “We can then balance what is hard by acknowledging what is less hard or is even working okay,” she says. So acknowledge what’s bothering you and what you’re grateful for. “Practising gratitude teaches us to be on the look out for the little wins.”
Kim Murray, founder of Melbourne Mindfulness Practice, recommends recommends an exercise used in MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction) and MBCT (mindfulness-based cognitive therapy). Write down everything you do on an average day, and assign each item an “N” if it’s nourishing or a “D” if it’s depleting. Some activities might fall into both categories, or the category might change depending on when and with whom you do the activity. “That’s fine, in fact it’s helpful information,” he says. “Looking at the list and seeing the ratio of Ns and Ds might give you some insights into what’s contributing to you feeling well, low or stressed. The invitation then is to start to act wisely with your day.”
Murray recommends reviewing the list every week and setting a goal that will increase the balance of Ns to Ds. Make it measurable, like taking a 45-minute lunch break away from your computer, going for a daily walk, or asking someone to help with one of your Ds, and then monitor how it impacts your mood and stress levels.
Meditating can be very helpful
Meditation can offset stressful or difficult situations, but Murray says it’s like learning a musical instrument: if you want to see benefits, you have to practise. “If you are new to meditation, being guided by and supported by others is helpful in establishing a practice of your own,” he says. From April 15, Melbourne Mindfulness Practice will run daily guided meditations online from 7pm to 8pm. Murray also recommends the book Finding Peace in a Frantic World, which takes you through an eight-week meditation course.
Here’s our guide to mindfulness during the time of coronavirus.