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Mental Health: How to Survive Blackout Season

Avoiding power outages this winter is unlikely, so you should prepare for possible blackouts. Many practical and useful tips can be found in the guide "Blackout during the winter", and ideas for "dark" things that will help you survive the lack of electricity more easily, and are also useful for mental and physical health, in the publication of the Ministry of Health "How to survive turning off the lights and not losing your common sense?"

Today we will talk about the physiological aspects that will help to be more stable in the period of lack of electricity, and how to help yourself in case of panic or just despair due to the darkness.

The probability of mood disorders (affective disorders) in the dark and cold season increases even without power outages. People who have had seasonal affective disorder in the past or are currently experiencing a depressive episode are especially at risk.

You can prevent the deterioration of the condition in at least three ways, which complement each other:

- consultation with a psychiatrist and taking prescribed antidepressants,

- light therapy in the morning (more about it below),

- cognitive-behavioral therapy to change the attitude towards the dark period of the year.

If after the transition to "winter time" you are almost constantly in a state of apathy, sadness or indifference, confusion, you crave something sweet or fatty, you want to sleep all the time, but you can't get enough to eat and sleep, then it is better to consult a family doctor or a psychiatrist, than trying to save yourself with coffee and sweets.

Light and mood

Our brain has its own light meter, and it is biphasic: daylight – on one account, night – on the other. Light during the day improves health and good mood, night light spoils it. After all, the areas of the brain that perceive the level of lighting and are responsible for mood are interconnected, so changes in lighting are highly likely to affect mood.

Our brain is sensitive to the amount of light, its distribution throughout the day, and its spectral composition. We are "programmed" by nature to be active during daylight hours, and to slow down and fall asleep when it gets dark. In addition, for blue cold light in our cycle, morning is assigned, and for warm yellow - evening.

Does this mean that the onset of darkness after a short day and a blackout is our sentence to have a bad mood or an affective disorder? Not at all. Dark evenings without gadgets, lights, screens, with warm and not very bright light harmonize with our physiology. Especially if we see sunlight in the morning, and a lot of sunlight and artificial neutral light in the afternoon.

Research shows that exposure to blue light pollution disrupts our sleep-wake cycles and can increase the risk of developing an affective disorder. Therefore, evening blackouts can be perceived as a beneficial phenomenon for the brain and mental state - provided that at this time you listen to music or an audio book, play board games, do household chores, go for a walk or sleep.

During a power outage, the warm light of garlands and battery lights will be much more comfortable than the cold blue. Therefore, take care of lighting the house with yellow LED lamps. Consider that the blue light of screens, sitting and social networks spoil the mental state.

And in order to "get enough" of natural light, you can start your day with sunrise, spend as much time outside as possible during daylight hours. It is also worth making the natural light in the room as large as possible: no curtains or blinds on the windows during the day. If possible, avoid rooms with windows to the north in winter and follow the sun like cats. The brain accumulates the light seen during the day, so accumulate lux of light at every opportunity.

Other sensory stimuli in the dark

We have sight, smell, hearing and tactile sensations. If the stimulus of light disappears or weakens, we rely more on other senses. Stimulating the brain with pleasant smells, sounds and textures under the light of a garland or in the dark can reduce the anxiety of the brain due to a lack of input. It is worth focusing on your sensations: what I hear, what I feel by touch or smell, whether I feel warm or not, how my own voice sounds and vibrates in my chest when I sing - but there is no need to give any evaluations to these signals.

Darkness is neither good nor bad. We are only in the dark or looking at a candle and listening to the crackling of its wick. It causes certain sensations, they are just there, we focus on them, but do not give evaluative judgments to what is happening. Such a stay "here and now" without any thoughts about the past and the future can calm our anxiety and discomfort.

Scent

In our brain, information about smells goes immediately to the areas involved in creating emotions and awakening memories. That is why some smells throw us into a whirlpool of sudden emotions or detailed memories - pleasant or unpleasant, and each of us has such trigger aromas. If the prospect of sitting in the dark looms ahead, attract pleasant emotions or memories with the help of smells. It can be not only perfumes, candles or diffusers - for someone, the trigger of feelings of coziness and security can be the smell of pancakes or fritters.

A heavy blanket

A blanket weighted 10-20% of your own weight can be a good way to reduce anxiety. Currently, there is a lack of research on large volumes of volunteers for clear conclusions about the effectiveness of such blankets in overcoming anxiety and insomnia. However, if you have the opportunity to buy a bedstead or a special heavy blanket, or make something similar from several cotton bedspreads and a blanket, you can try. Sometimes the role of a heavy blanket is performed by cats, which lie on top of us to sleep.

Listening to ASMR audio (autonomous sensory meridian response)

Have you ever experienced that from certain sounds, orphans appeared on the skin, a wave of shivers rolled through the body, and the hair seemed to move? This happens not only from beautiful music, but also from whispers, the rustling of book pages, the crackling of a fire, the ticking of knitting needles, etc. This involuntary reaction of the body to certain sensory stimuli does not happen to everyone and not always, and those who do know that it is pleasant. Even without a wave of jitters, some people enjoy listening to someone whispering Harry Potter or writing with an ink pen. If you are one of those who respond positively to certain sounds, try using it in the dark when you want to bring back pleasant feelings and peace.

It is now known that neurotic people have a better ability to experience ASMR than the rest. At the same time, neuroticism is not a disorder, it is a personality trait in which people tend to worry, think too much about what is said, worry in advance, have mood swings, get easily irritated and often be out of humor. If you have similar traits, try to use neuroticism to your advantage. Listen to ASMR audio from the Internet or create sounds yourself that cause pleasant sensations on the skin.

Take care and be healthy!

The material was prepared within the framework of the implementation of the All-Ukrainian mental health program How are you? on the initiative of Olena Zelenska.


Source: Ministry of Health of Ukraine

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