San Franciscans woke to an apocalyptic sky colored an orange hue on Tuesday, the result of ash and smoke from the Bear Fire. The Halloween-esque haze lasted all day, leaving some feeling the emotional effects as a result of the gloominess and darkness.
According to Dr. Ken Yeager of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, “Low amounts of sunlight may trigger a reduction in serotonin, which can affect your mood. Gray days also can wreak havoc on the body’s melatonin levels, making it harder for some people to get started on dark mornings.”
To help combat this, SF State Holistic Health Studies professors provided some advice for students and members of the campus community struggling to manage their gloomy-weather emotions.
Dr. Adam Burke, professor and director of the Institute for Holistic Health (IHHS) at SF State, listed some of the emotions he imagines people are experiencing during this time: sadness, anxiety, anger, uncertainty.
“You can try to put a smiley face on things, but the reality is that sometimes things are heavy,” Burke said.
In light of all the emotions people may be experiencing right now, Burke said he always tries to remind people “that this too shall pass” — a reference to English poet Edward FitzGerald’s retelling of 19th century Persian Sufi poets — and that humans are strong, resilient individuals.
Burke advises people to acknowledge whatever feelings they are having and to acknowledge that those feelings are normal during times of high stress in conjunction with the pandemic, social unrest and traumas resulting from systemic racism.
“The main thing is to not really let them bury you, to not get overwhelmed by them,” Burke said, stressing the importance of practicing self-care if those feelings become burdensome or troublesome.
Professor of holistic health in the College of Health and Social Services Dr. Erik Peper recommended to go beyond acknowledging personal feelings and to write down the specific feelings that are being felt. Peper said the process of writing down one’s feelings could help to realize that those feelings are temporary and only in the present.
“So at least see if you can stop and say, ‘Just at this moment, I am the following [emotions].’ That allows you a kind of distance. You can write it down on a piece of paper and put it to the side,” Peper said.
Burke also described the importance of talking to someone about what one may be feeling. He said that someone could be a friend, classmate, parent, sibling or “anybody that you feel you can confide in, anybody you feel close to.”
Peper backed this up saying, “Asking for support is not a sign of weakness – it’s a sign of strength … you ask for help, you’re acknowledging that you want to learn something more.”
Burke and Peper recommend keeping busy and engaged with activities other than ones Burke said that “you might worry about or feel bad about.” Aside from schoolwork, they stressed the importance of exercise, healthy eating, meditation and proper sleep — things that can be done indoors to avoid the hazy sky and “moderate” air quality, according to the Air Quality Index.
“The best treatment that exists for depression, for moderate depression, is for people to do exercise and movement,” Peper said.
Peper took it one step further and also recommended figuring out which activities drain energy versus which ones give energy. This gives one the ability to remove energy-draining habits and replace them with energy-increasing things.
“We are strong, you are strong as an individual, and this moment in time will pass,” Burke said.
List of mental health resources offered by SF State: