Ragweed season started back on August 9th, and now seems finally to be over. Yesterday, for the first time in maybe three weeks, I didn’t need to use nasal steroids. (Same nasal steroids I used to use almost all the time, until I went low-carb.)
I am a little too prone to use black humor to distance myself from the depressing effects of the long, cold darkness of winter, which sometimes leaves people worrying about me unnecessarily. So I thought I’d mention that despite a bit of anxiety over the inevitable turn of the seasons, my mood is currently pretty great.
Beyond just feeling good right now, I’m hopeful. Over the past decade I’ve been handling winters better and better.
The biggest factor, I think, is that I no longer have a job to lose, so I no longer get into the spiral where seasonal depression makes me less productive, making me anxious about losing my job, making me more depressed, making me even less productivity. Sadly, advising others to take advantage of this strategy is not very useful (although I do and will continue to support and advocate for either a citizen wage or a guaranteed job).
Putting early retirement aside as impractical for most people, I thought I’d briefly summarize my other current practices—mostly ordinary coping strategies—both as a reference for myself any time I start to feel my brain chemicals coming on, and perhaps as a resource for other people. Here’s what’s working for me:
- Taking delight in things. In particular, I take delight in the opportunity to wear seasonally appropriate woollies. I also like to spend time in the Conservatory, go to art galleries or museums, listen to live music, and generally go on artist’s dates.
- Getting plenty of exercise. Last winter I managed to get out for a run almost every week. As fall approaches I’m getting back to my lifting. (Here’s a great resource on the current science on using exercise to treat and prevent depression.)
- Spending time in nature. I do that all summer, and it may be part of the reason that my mood is generally great in the summer. But I can do it in the winter too. (I don’t seem to have a post on this topic. I’ll be sure to write one this winter. In the meantime you can find various mentions by clicking on the vitamin N tag over on the sidebar.)
- Light therapy. I’ve used my HappyLight™ for years, and it does seem to help. Getting outdoors anytime in the first couple of hours after dawn is probably even better—another thing I find easy to do in the summer that would probably help just as much in the winter.
- Taking Vitamin D through the winter. The evidence for any benefit is scant, but even if it only helps through the placebo effect, it is at least a safe, cheap placebo. (There’s good evidence that people with high levels of vitamin D are healthier, but very little evidence that supplementing vitamin D makes people healthier. It could easily be purely associational—maybe more time spent outdoors both boosts vitamin D levels and makes people healthier and happier.)
- Anything that boosts neurogenesis. That’s most of the things listed above, but lots of other things too, such as engaging in creative work. Also on the list are calorie restriction and adequate consumption of omega-3 fatty acids.
I have a few new possibilities up my sleeve:
- There’s recent evidence that sauna bathing is dramatically effective at treating depression, probably through many mechanisms including the activation of heat-shock proteins. (One thing on my to-do list is finding a local fitness center or spa with a sauna and investigating the cost of a three or four month membership.)
- Related to heat exposure is cold exposure, which activates many of the same protective proteins that heat exposure does. Cold exposure, of course, is trivially easy to achieve in the winter—just wear a coat or jacket one notch less warm than would be most comfortable.
- Obviously sleep is very important, and with my Oura ring I’m tracking my own sleep carefully. This has already been helpful, and I’m hoping to be able to do more to improve my sleep (and thereby my mood) in the winter as well.
That’s what I’ve got at the moment, but I’m always on the lookout for things to alleviate seasonal depression.
Of the many good things about spring, about now is when the lightening sky starts providing useful cues for waking up. If it’s still dark, I don’t need to check the time and can just go back to sleep. And if it’s getting light outside, it’s time to get up.
I’ve slept late the past two days—until after 7:00 AM. (That might not seem late to you, but it’s late for me. Also, I’d gone to bed early both evenings, before 9:00 PM, so we’re talking a solid 10 hours of sleep each night.)
This usually means stress. When I’m under stress, I need more sleep.
It’s not necessarily stress. The time just changed, and it may simply be that I’m sleeping until dawn, as I always do. Checking the almanac, sunrise today was at 7:07 AM. So that’s actually a pretty strong contender. Maybe I’m worrying about nothing.
Still, over the years, I’ve noticed that needing extra sleep is often an early sign that I’m under stress. In fact, it’s often the first sign. More than once, it has been greatly to my advantage that I noticed the oversleeping early, and used that clue to spot the sources of stress that had been accumulating at levels just beneath my notice. It let me address them before they blew up into problems. (Another early sign is getting annoyed at bad drivers around me. When other people’s bad driving starts aggravating me, it almost always means I’m actually stressed about something else entirely. That symptom has not yet appeared.)
So, because of my history with spikes in the need for sleep when I’m under stress, I’m looking around for possible stressors. There are plenty. I’ve got a bunch of things to do (the taxes, renewing my passport). Progress on the novel remains slow as I continue plowing through the already-written part. We just got notified that the new owners of the apartment complex are raising the rent by a lot (and want to charge for a bunch of stuff that was previously included in the rent, which would be okay except that the infrastructure to meter that stuff doesn’t exist, so they’d just be making up numbers). Finances are perennially tight, with returns to capital being what they’ve been since 2007.
So, I’ll take steps to address a bunch of those. A few are very small tasks, and have only been put off because they’re multi-step projects (get picture, fill out form, send it in) and I haven’t been organized to get all the steps taken care of. Others, such as investigating other apartments, are obviously huge sinkholes of time.
Stress is cumulative. Hopefully, taking care of some of the little things promptly can free up some energy to take care of the big things more calmly.
Jackie and I went for our first bike ride of the year. We followed our traditional first-ride route, around Kaufman Lake, past the Olympic Monument, around Parkland College, and then back. This year we went 6.27 miles.
I’d been hearing cardinals for several days, but out on this ride we got definitive expressions of bird spring. The robins are back, as are the red-winged blackbirds. I saw a crow fly up out of Copper Slough with a huge wad of nesting material in its beak.
The ride itself went fine as well. No mechanical problems. No problems with Jackie’s wrist. There had been a couple of previous days when it would have been warm enough to ride, but those days were very windy. It was nice to just wait for today and not have to deal with the headwinds.
I think we’re all set now, to be able to ride whenever we want. In particular, if there’s a day when it’s nice enough to ride first thing in the morning, we could ride to the Fitness Center and then to taiji. (That’s a bit long and complex of a ride to try to combine it with our first “shakedown” ride of the year.)