Friday, January 14, 2011
While there are many reasons I love living in Seattle, the lack of sun is definitely not one of them. Before relocating to Seattle, I had only visited the Pacific Northwest during the summer months. I thought Seattle was absolutely beautiful and couldn't wait to be surrounded by mountains and water. It seemed the sun was always shining (15 hours/day during summer) and I didn't really take people's comments about the cloudy days that seriously. Little did I know how much I would struggle with one gloomy day after another during the winter months in Seattle.
Typically I am a very high energy, happy, and motivated individual; however, when I don't see the sun for extended periods of time, I become down, lethargic, andÃ??Ã?Â unmotivated. When these feelings initially surfaced during the grey months in Seattle, I became quite concerned. I didn't know what was wrong with me and I wondered if all of a sudden a depression had overcome me. It was rather disconcerting to feel this "dark" person hadÃ??Ã?Â invaded my body.
After doing some research, I realized I wasn't going crazy but instead I was dealing with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Even though I was used to darker winters after having grown up in the Midwest, I wasn't used to such long stretches of absolutely no sun. My first winter in Seattle was quite challenging and I questioned if I could live here long-term. A native of the Pacific Northwest told me it usually takes transplants about two years to adjust to the gloomy weather. Two years seemed like a long time to feel the way I did but this PNW native ended up being right. My second winter in Seattle was easier for me to deal with for two reasons: 1) I embraced the gloomy weather 2) I devised an action plan to deal with SAD.
Before I provide a list of remedies that have helped me deal with SAD, I would recommend consulting with a Natropath if you are dealing with serious depression during the winter months. Taking anti-depressants is one alternative but it should really be the lastÃ??Ã?Â alternative, unless you are dealing with suicidal thoughts. I have had one client and friend after another tell me anti-depressants were a mere band-aid that prevented them with truly dealing with their feelings. A former client, who happens to be an MD, realized that after taking anti-depressants for five years, it was time for her to stop taking drugs and start finding the happiness that naturally resided within her. For SAD, I have found natural remedies to be effective, although I realize everyone's bodies respond to variousÃ??Ã?Â therapies in different ways.
HereÃ??Ã?Â isÃ??Ã?Â the action plan I devised in order toÃ??Ã?Â counteract Seasonal Affective Disorder during the winter months in Seattle:
1) Exercise - The so-called "Runner's High" isn't a myth. When you exercise, your endorphins kick in and all of a sudden your mood is elevated. When I wake-up in the morning around 7AMÃ??Ã?Â Ã??Ã?Â or 8AM and it's still dark outside, am I motivated to exercise? Not really to be honest. When it's sunny out, IÃ??Ã?Â usually jump out of bed and can't wait to lace up my New Balance running shoes and head out for a run. However, when darkness lingers day and night my motivation and energy levels plummet.Once I get to the gym however or head east to enjoy some trail running, I feel so much better. It's the initial "getting out the door" that is really the hardest part.
During the winter months I would highly recommend trying new activities you enjoy. My friend and I just started taking regular yoga classes and it has done wonders for my mental state during the overcast month of January. Instead of running outside when it's pouring, I may take a spinning class at my gym instead. I find the energy of the people and the fun music to really lift my spirits.
2) Get a Sun Lamp - It may seem odd to sit in front ofÃ??Ã?Â a lamp that emulates fake rays of sunlight but let me tell you, sun lamps really work. They do so by affecting brain chemicals linked to mood. I typically sit in front of my sun lamp for 30 minutes first thing in the morning. If you are interested in learning more about light therapy, here is a thorough Q&A on the topic:Ã??Ã?Â http://www.columbia.edu/~mt12/blt.htm. I bought my sun lamp for around $70 on Amazon.com.
3) Have your Vitamin D Levels Tested - Low Vitamin D levels are typical for individuals who live in the Pacific Northwest and other "sun starved" areas. When an individual lacks optimal levels of Vitamin D, depression and lethargy may result. I would highly recommend taking a Vitamin D supplement if your levels are low. If you have an interest in learning more about how Vitamin D affects your overall health, I suggestÃ??Ã?Â reading Dr. Dowd's book The Vitamin D Cure. Here is a link to his website:Ã??Ã?Â http://www.thevitamindcure.com/.
4) Eat Clean - After doing quite a bit of research on nutrition and learning from my own trials of tribulations, IÃ??Ã?Â strongly believeÃ??Ã?Â that what you consume has a tremendous impact on your overall well-being. Do you want to feel amazing and have tons of energy? Eat a diet that consists of whole foods, with extra emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables. When you have low energy and feel depressed, your body will crave sugar, carbohydrates, and caffeine. All of these things will give your body a "quick" pick-me-up but unfortunately you will then crash and feel depressed and lethargic again. The key is to eat pure foods that are minimally processed. Instead of eating a fat-laden, high-sugar pastry from your local coffee shop, eat piece of fruit or make a smoothie. If you are prone to downing one cup of coffee after another, try drinking green tea or avoiding caffeine altogether. My high school cross-country coach once said, "Eat crap. Run like crap." His words have stuck with me to this day. So, for you blog readers, here is my message, "Eat crap. Feel like crap." Here's to eating clean!
5) Connect with Nature - Today was really quite miserable but IÃ??Ã?Â still felt inclinedÃ??Ã?Â to get outside and go for a hike. During my drive to the trailhead, it started pouring rather heavily. I contemplated turning around and calling it a day but I decided to be tough. There were tons of other hikers out and it inspired me to bundle up and just get out there. As a sidenote, something I admire about people from the Pacific Northwest is that no matter what kind of mood Mother Nature is in, it doesn't stop people from getting outside to go running, hiking, biking, or doing whateverÃ??Ã?Â activity they enjoy. People in the PNW are seriously hardcore, which has helped me be a little bit more hardcore, although I definitely haveÃ??Ã?Â a ways to go.
Back to my hike today, once I started on my journey, I didn't even notice it was raining. Instead I noticed the trees covered by a green shag carpetÃ??Ã?Â and the babbling water making bubbles. I then came upon a lake and felt a sense of wonder at the beauty surrounding me. Nature is therapeutic and calming. It lifts your spirits and clears your head. A main reason winters in Seattle are easier is because I now make it a point to get outside on a regular basis.
These are the main ways I have dealt with SAD and they have helped me feel like a normal person during winters in Seattle. Once you take action and figure out ways to deal with the gloomy weather, you will be much better off and you may even learn to love (or maybe just like) the grey days.
Colleen Canney is a Career Coach based in Seattle, WA. For more information on her coaching services, visit her website at www.colleencanney.comÃ??Ã?Â or contact her via email@example.com.