Every year when daylight savings time hits, I start hearing from friends that they’re feeling depressed.

At that point in the fall, the hours of daylight have been shortening naturally, but there’s something about suddenly having to go to work in the dark, being inside all day and then coming home in the dark that is disorienting. And the time change really seems to be like an “on” switch that arrives every year to put a lot of us in a hard funk.

Late fall and winter are an interesting time, emotionally. The earth prepares herself to hunker down for the duration and we humans follow suit, and it can look and feel a lot like an ending. The leaves fall, the air turns cold, and we’re reminded of solitude, death, and the fact that we’ll be battling snow and ice for the next few months. We get a little tired, we get a little moody and things just don’t seem all that great.

Before we continue, though: seasonal mood changes aren’t anything new, and we all experience them. In this blog post we’re going to talk about common, mild seasonal emotional changes and our relationship with them. But please keep in mind that depression is a serious disease. It can be a deadly disease and it is very, very real. If you or someone you know is experiencing the impulse to harm yourself, please don’t be ashamed to ask for help. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline is open 24/7/365 to answer questions, work through crises or just listen. 

Despite the fact that we watch the world start to shut down and turn its energy inward after a summer of energetic growth, we tend to fight that process ourselves. If you google seasonal depression you’ll find list after list of how to “beat the winter blues.” But I’m curious why we’re trying so hard to beat them. The rest of nature doesn’t seem so concerned with that.

What if we embrace the winter blues? As our part of the earth is steeped in shadow, could it be that nature is encouraging us to face our shadow sides ourselves?

Why are we so afraid as a culture to spend time in the dark?

Think of your shadow side as the side of your personality that is almost always shrouded in darkness. These parts are the ones that have been told – by you or others – that they are negative, and that you must hide them. Anger, selfishness, desire, greed, cowardice, all of these and more make up your shadow self.

Further, aspects of ourselves that are incongruent with how we perceive ourselves or how we wish to be perceived get sent to our shadow side.

In this way, shadow self-becomes the neglected part of yourself. The aspects of the whole person known as YOU that have been disowned and told they are bad, they live in a constant state of neglect. Often, qualities that are generally perceived as positive can make their way to your shadow side too, if they aren’t taken care of properly.

Your shadow side is a home for wayward emotions and self-aspects.

Once neglected, shadow emotions can become volatile or out of balance as they work overtime for you to hear them. As hard as we try to push them down, they keep coming up to be expressed, more aggressively each time.

When we do emotional work, we’re always encouraged to focus energy on positive aspects of ourselves, like cultivating our personal power, positive thinking or how to love more freely. Facing the shadow asks us to do the same, but with our dark sides.

Bringing dark aspects and demons into the light removes some of their power and mystery, offering you a chance at mastery of them and integration with them. A chance to live in balance with the parts of yourself that trouble you the most.

Very practically, shadow work could start simply with asking, “where is my anger?” (or any other shadow aspect you wish to inspect). Ask it to come into your view, to stand before you plainly. Where do you feel it in your body? What does it look like? Does it have a shape, color, sound, smell or face? How does it make you feel toward it?

What happens when you just acknowledge this piece of your shadow self? “I see you.”

What happens if you go further and offer this piece of yourself your empathy and compassion?

Much like hiking into a thick forest during a blizzard in the winter, this work can be very scary, and even dangerous if not handled correctly. Using tools like journals or other modes of documentation, art or movement for self-expression to allow these emotions to flow through you, or having someone you can trust to talk to can all be assets in working with your shadow side, to keep you safe.

As the days become shorter during our approach to the winter solstice, and in the months thereafter that sink deeper into the cold and isolation as our hemisphere makes her way slowly, slowly back around to once again tilt toward our sun, we will find ourselves confronted by our shadow sides whether we like it or not.

Perhaps it is the earth and our bodies, made of all the same star stuff, telling us that it is time to inspect what is in the darkness and to live, for a short time, in the cold and dark as an act of self-renewal. To revel in the shadow and give attention to the shadow while our part of the earth is also in the shadow.

If you decide to take on some of this valuable work for yourself this winter, remember to take breaks to join your community in acts of joy and give your mind some time away from all of that hard work. Letting go of introspection, anxieties, and problems, and simply focusing on movement for an hour is perfect for letting your emotions process. We hope we’ll see you in dance, yoga or movement classes this December – the class schedule can be found here.