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I got them Portland Winter Blues

Here comes the Sun (or not)

It's about this time of year I start thinking we should be like bears. Eat tons of food, go into a warm cave around November, fall into a deep sleep---and not wake until April.

Ah, Portland in the winter. Months of relentless rain, grim gray and too much sitting in front of the screen. If you're new to the Northwest, you're probably wondering about now why you came. For those of us old-timers, it's still a struggle to push ourselves out of lethargy and away from melancholy.

For many, the feelings can become a form of seasonal depression, a mood disorder called SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), SAD has been linked to a biochemical imbalance in the brain prompted by shorter
daylight hours and a lack of sunlight in winter.Some of the symptoms are:

  • Sad, anxious or "empty" feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
  • Changes in weight
So, since we're not bears and we can't take this lying down (and hibernating), we have to adapt. The spring will come again and so will the sun. In the meantime, here are some ideas that help with the Portland Blues:
1. Something Bright. Less sunlight can impact our levels of serotonin, melatonin, and our circadian rhythm. If you can't get outdoors during daylight hours, try a light therapy box. Amazon has lots, but for better, local service go to Kay at Sunlan Lighting, 3901 MIssissippi Ave. If being in the store doesn't lift your mood, the window displays will!
2. Something Active. Can't say it enough--exercise. It releases endorphins, which gives you more energy and makes you feel better. Walk or dance when you watch that umpteenth Netflix show. Go to the gym. Embarrass your dog by getting matching plaid coats and walk down by the Willamette in a water-from-above, water-from-below, water-by-your-side experience. (Also water-in-your-house when your dog shakes when you get home.) Hike the Gorge in the rain; at least it won't be crowded! (I once saw a family picnicking in the rain, I kid you not.)
3. Something Gentle. If throwing yourself around on the elliptical feels like too much, try yoga or something similarly meditative. Yoga's benefits are well-known and regular practice has profound physical and mental effects. If you can't get to a class, get a library DVD or watch one of many Youtube programs. Better yet, invite a friend over to do it with you. If the thought of a regular meditation practice seems overwhelming, try simple breathing exercises or a short meditation. Headspace is an app that offers a free 10-day trial with a short, daily practice.
4. Something Medicinal. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, think vitamin D. It's highly recommended for people experiencing SAD. Dr. Andrew Weil has a list of vitamin/nutrition strategies on his website (see below.) If you are experiencing moderate to severe SAD symptoms, some healthcare practitioners will prescribe an antidepressant; in some cases, this can be enough to get you through the winter. (Note: if you are have persistent depression and/or thoughts of suicide, consult your doctor/healthcare practitioner. He/she might be able to prescribe a medication that is helpful.)
5. Something Social. We pull in during the winter; fight that urge and keep friends close. Plan a tea party--you'd be surprised at how grateful people are for a chance to get out. Laugh with a friend at a comedy show or meet someone at a pub, coffee shop, library, meet-up. Take a class at PCC, a cooking class or SheBop (sex is a great anti-depressant!!) 
6. Something Sexual. Sex is a great connector, a great release and a great anti-depressant. Take a class at SheBop (909 N Beech St. and 3213 SE Division), a female-friendly sex shop, and don't just stay in bed - stay in bed with someone and have fun!
7. Something Creative. The power of music to relax, uplift, and provide an emotional release is real, according to American Psychological Association. Sometimes music is the only language that resonates. And if you play an instrument, you know that playing music can serve as an incredible outlet. Art is the same; the creative process works on the brain to alleviate depression--sometimes much more powerfully and quickly than any talk therapy.
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