Strategies for SAD

SAD. I haz it. Well, I have had it, anyway. After a few decades of dreadful winters in Philly, Ohio, and Boston, I lived in Arizona for 10 years, and not by accident. Longer days and plenty of sunshine are good for me. So my recent relocation to Portland, OR, was a little scary. I love the city, but in winter, the sun isn’t up until 7:30, and it’s pretty well dark around 5. When it is daytime, it’s often pretty gray. I’m not dealing with any active symptoms now, but I know I have this tendency. Wellness isn’t something you can put off until you are unwell. What do I need to keep myself healthy, knowing that darkness and indoors are my arch nemeses? 

  • Science says it’s pretty likely that light therapy is beneficial. I got this for Christmas (thanks Amy!!) and I use it for 20 minutes every morning, while it’s still dark outside (dude, until like 7:30). I drink coffee, do my brief journaling, plan my goals and schedule for the day, and do any other lingering desk chores while I sit by the light.
  • I get outside. The light still works (remember when your mom said you can still get a sunburn when it’s cloudy?), but so does fresh air and moving your body. Sometimes it’s as simple as having the right gear to make the outdoors friendlier. Remember, there’s no such thing as bad weather— only insufficient gear. (See my previous post about running).
  • I’m keeping up good relationships with my family and friends in San Diego and Tucson. Mid-winter escape route! People aren’t like solar cells, but, well, experience suggests that a good break somewhere sunny can carry me through.
  • I remind myself to go out— both for exercise and for social time. Does it always sound great? No. Is it usually great? Yes. 
  • I eat well. Of course it’s tempting to face-plant into a bowl of mac and cheese when it’s dark, damp and cold. I’m not above it. But if most of my plate is vegetables, I feel better. And if I feel better, I’m better at doing the rest of the stuff on this list.

What else helps you sun-lovers out there with a long winter?

Basic Human Maintenance 101

I got an email about classes at my local REI the other day (desert hiking with your dog? yes please!), and among the offerings was bike maintenance. This got me thinking about something I read not long ago:

Kelly Starrett says all human beings should be able to perform basic maintenance on themselves. He’s right! I prefer this way of thinking about it to the ubiquitous “self care”— not that that’s wrong, but it’s been sort of distorted to mean, like, taking bubble baths when you’re stressed out. For me, maintenance is more about getting the basics under control day-to-day.

Dr. Starrett was talking about the tissues of the body. Spend time every day finding the areas that need attention— spots that are a little tight, a little tender, not quite as supple as you’d like—  and work on them for 10 or 15 minutes. Do this daily, and you can prevent a lot of major problems in your musculoskeletal system. This just makes sense! Little things are easy to fix. Little things that you don’t fix turn into big things.

What else can you do as maintenance on your human self? What little things can you do every day to head off major life fails?

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Do we need art?

I have always liked art– drawing, reading, museums. But I went through a very literal phase as a teenager where I sort of didn’t get it. What’s the use? I’d ask. What’s the benefit? That’s nice, that’s fun, but is it important? Do we really need art? Shouldn’t we study engineering, or microbiology, or something? Now, I think the answer is yes, and yes.

We all have feelings, thoughts, orientations to the world. These can arise seemingly on their own and sit there, uninterrogated, shaping our lives. They may or may not be visible to us. Are we at their mercy, or do we have the capacity to guide them, direct them, respond to them deliberately? And how does this impact our well-being, as individuals and as communities?

I think that art— experiencing it, viewing it, reading it, hearing it, making it— is a way to engage with our thoughts and feelings outside of the direct lens we usually experience through. Like maybe we can sidle up to them and get close to them before we put up our guard. Or we can see them from a different angle than the head-on way we usually do.

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what I wish I could tell my patients

This stuff is the truest truth I know, but it’s hard to impart it 20 minutes at a time to people who want you to fix what’s wrong with them. My clinic is full of people– good, hardworking, courageous people who want to be healthy, and who have diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or back pain. Or else they don’t feel good– they’re fatigued, they don’t sleep well, they just aren’t themselves. So we look for serious problems, we treat the symptoms. . . and then we talk about what kind of changes might help them. But so often, I just want to scream that all the blood tests and prescriptions in the world won’t make you well– you have to do that! So, to all the wonderful people who want to be well but don’t know how, I have this advice for you:

the truth about change