A dark subway station

Saying Hello to the Short Days of Winter and My Low Mood That Comes With It

When you leave your evening class this week, don’t be shocked to walk outside into complete darkness. Yes, it’s that time of year again, the time when the days get shorter and the nights get longer.

If you’re like me, then you’ll be waking up for class while the sun is merely rising, commuting to school in the hollows of dark subway tunnels, staring at projector screens in classes with no windows and leaving school long after the sun has set. The few hours of sunshine in the day will be wasted while either at work, in class, or both, leaving you feeling like your days are drowning in darkness.

The name, “Daylight Savings Time”, doesn’t fit this time of year accurately. Names like “the dark months” or “dreadful darkness time” would be a lot more fitting.

Most people (including myself before writing this) don’t understand why the clocks fall back and jump forward in autumn and spring every year. Maybe it’s our own fault for not paying attention somewhere along the way. Regardless, today I’m going to de-bunk some Daylight Savings Time myths and tell you the truth about where it came from and why we have it. Just in time for the 100th year anniversary of following the practice.

Myth: Daylight Savings Time helps farmers.

Truth: Dairy farmers have argued against Daylight Savings Time because it negatively affects their cows and makes milking a challenge. Daylight Savings Time actually started in Germany in the First World War to minimize the amount of fuel being used for artificial lighting and instead use it to help the war effort. Shortly after it started being used in Germany, other European countries adopted the practice, including the UK and France. When the war ended, so did Daylight Savings Time until it was used again in the Second World War. Daylight Savings Time was first used in Canada in 1908 in Thunder Bay Ontario, and now most Canadian provinces and territories practice it.

Myth: Everyone in Canada participates in Daylight Savings Time.

Truth: There are a few places in Canada that don’t follow DST including most of the province of Saskatchewan. Since laws related to time are provincial matters in Canada, provinces are not forced to participate. In Ontario, Daylight Savings begins (clocks go forward) at 2:00 a.m. on the second Sunday in March and ends (clocks go backward) at 2:00 a.m. on the first Sunday of November. Our Daylight Savings Schedule has been closely synched with the United States since the late 1960s to help economics and social interactions remain consistent.

Myth: Daylight Savings Time is better for our health.

Truth: You might think the extra Vitamin D during the months with longer days means Daylight Savings makes us healthier but The Washington Post reports that experts have noted higher rates of suicide, headaches and work place accidents when Daylight Savings Time begins and ends.

If you are one of those people who start to feeling gloomy when the clocks go backward, you’re not alone. According to the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario, between two to six per cent of Canadians experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and up to 15 per cent experience a milder form of SAD at some point in their lifetime.

Sarah Thompson is a clinical psychologist at Ryerson’s Centre for Student Development and Counselling (CSDC). She says that when working with a person’s mood it’s always good to “start with the basics” and go from there. She recommends getting sufficient sleep, exercising 20-30 minutes a day and spending time with friends to help us recharge and manage stress. When it comes to struggling with low mood, like how you might feel when there’s less daylight, she says forcing yourself to get outside for a few hours a day will help.

“Try to get outside within [the first] two hours of waking up for a walk in the sun, take a walk at lunch, and keep your blinds and curtains open to let the light in,” she wrote to me in an email. If this interests you, there’s an initiative called Mood Routes at Ryerson that takes students on hour long walks off campus to connect with nature, re-focus, and de-stress.

She advises students to “embrace sweater weather” by finding an outdoor activity they can do in the colder months to bring fun and play into our lives during that time. She also says layering up and dressing appropriately for the weather will help you stay warmer and feel better. But if the “basics” and sweaters don’t help, Thompson says students shouldn’t hesitate to ask for help.

“If symptoms begin to impact functioning, I would recommend that students reach out for help sooner rather than later.  Psychotherapy can help students manage symptoms of SAD,” she said. The CSDC website has information on how to book an appointment for counselling or to join a Take Care group, resources for students and tip sheets to help with coping.

Whenever I’m stressed I like to visit the RU Therapy Dogs (every Wednesday from 12-pm!).  I’ll probably be taking more than few trips to see my furry friends this semester.