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I live in Seattle. That means during the winter it will rain almost every day, and the sun doesn't rise until after 7 AM and sets at 4 PM. This is only November, so as the year progresses towards the solstice, the daylight hours will only get shorter. I work extremely long hours as well, so I am in darkness for two to four hours before the sun rises, and am often at work four to six hours after it sets. During the winter months, I live my life in the damp dark embrace of my city. I love it here and wouldn't trade even this for anywhere else in the world. But on days like today, weeks like this week, when sleep is a precious commodity I am not taking advantage of, and the worries of my mind press close, it is hard to be cheerful in the absence of the light. I am sure that there are others struggling similarly, and so I thought I would give you five things that help me stay afloat—when the world goes dark and the only constant is the rain.
Again, as with all my advice, I am not a medical or psychiatric professional, this is a list of things that have helped me during my battle with depression while living in Seattle. If you are having invasive thoughts of suicide, please consult a medical professional.
1. Get some more D.
I know how silly this sounds, but hear me out. Even in the summer here, maintaining appropriate Vitamin D levels is hard. We are far from the equator, and it is often overcast. In the summer I take 5000ius of Vitamin D daily. In the winter I bump it to 20000ius. I have done this with the monitoring and approval of my physician, as if you have too much Vitamin D, it can be harmful. I started doing this on the advice of a dear friend and former coworker, who actually did a talk about Vitamin D and Biohacking in general. I noticed a difference within the first week. It didn't cure my depression. Of course it didn't, this isn't Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), it is chronic and pervasive depression. However, it did help. I found myself more willing to complete tasks, and to do things I enjoyed. My skin wasn't sun-kissed, but my soul felt like it was. I will forever be very grateful to my friend for cluing me in on this.
"Why Everyone Needs More D" by Julia Hietz
2. Hug it out!
Roll your eyes all you want, but let me tell you, hugging is fundamental! It doesn't matter where the hug comes from, assuming the other party consents. What matters is the human contact. Hugging for a minimum of three seconds increases oxytocin levels. Why is oxytocin important? It is the trust chemical. It is what makes us feel bonded to other people. It also can make us feel less stressed out, lower our heart rate, and improve our overall mood. So get out there and hug somebody. Make sure to get extra snuggle time in with your love-friend if you have one, and share the healing energy that is togetherness with your friends. Remember, lingering hugs are only awkward if you make them awkward. Don't be that person. This is symbiosis, everyone involved gets a benefit.
3. Sweet Bean Juice of the Gods
That's right! Coffee! Living the majority of you life in darkness will royally confuse your internal clock. In order to keep your circadian rhythm on beat, you may need some additional help from another chemical: Caffeine! Luckily, for myself and other Seattlites, coffee here is magnificent and in abundance! If I am home brewing my coffee, it is almost always D'arte. So rich, so smooth, so expertly crafted. If I am living that coffee shop life though, it is hard to beat Chocolati (Greenwood or Wallingford) or The Moore Coffee Shop (Belltown). In either of those two establishments, I know I will get the full family treatment, and they both make a truly killer spiced mocha. I find that a little bit of chili powder or cayenne pepper in my mocha when it is still dark out is just the pep my step needs. Be responsible with your coffee consumption, or tea for those of yo you who hate yourselves. Try not to consume caffeine after 2 PM so you can still fall asleep naturally. Remember kids, according to chemistry, coffee is a solution!
4. It's so FLUFFY!
I am always an advocate for anything that offers comfort and warmth. Replace those life-giving sunbeams with fluffy stuff! Winter for me means comfy clothes. Down with heels and suits! Rise up leggings and fuzzy socks! Put away for the season are my cotton sheets, and lining my bed are now cozy flannel. I even bring a fluffy blanket from home for the office, to snuggle into when I am feeling blue. (Bonus points if the blanket smells like home or the person you love.) I am currently rocking mermaid leggings and an oversized and incredibly soft hoody while I sit at my incredibly professional job and I make no apologies for it. Wear fleece lined slippers around the house, and bust out the yoga pants. Comfy and soft things that keep you warm are not as good as hugs, but when you can't have a hug, they are a passable substitute.
5. Vicarious Living Through Printed Text
I know that not all of us have the time or mental capacity to sit down and read, but it is so incredibly beneficial. I don't really care what the medium for reading is; it could be a Kindle, book, magazine, newspaper, or even an audiobook, but it is essential. Find new perspectives, and abstract ways of handling large issues. Find a comfy chair, turn your phone off for 30 minutes, and read something. Read something that you can get lost in. I have some all-time favorites that I return to every year because they give me life when my life feels listless. I reread the Harry Potter series just about every December. I also find myself returning to the work of Becky Chambers, Charlotte Bronte, and Douglas Adams. I also love to pick up new books by authors I have never heard of. I listen to audiobooks and podcasts in the office, and enjoy the fellowship that listening to other people talk about things gives me. There is nothing quite like an adventure lived out in your living room. When life seems dire, there is always a comforting friend waiting a few page turns away and that can make all the difference.
I hope that these things will help you as they have helped me. Hang in there fellow people with a case of the blues, the sun comes back, and life continues, even if it doesn't feel like it ever will. Even if I don't know you, I am glad you are alive. Glad you are reading this. I am hopeful that we will see another spring together.