Though spring is seemingly just around the corner, we are still truly in the deep of winter. With an unusually mild winter season so far in NW Oregon, I’ve found myself feeling relief for the less fortunate in our city. Portland has one of the highest homeless populations in metro areas of the United States, and all too often we see news reports of people in deep suffering because of this. Exposure to the elements, lack of adequate sanitation and medical care and, of course, food insecurity are among the hazards our homeless community members face.
A mild winter may reduce the danger of exposure, but it doesn’t make food fall from the sky.
One of my favorite things about the Pacific Northwest is the sense of community pride, and the ability for everyone to unite when the going gets rough. It’s this energy that encourages the tradition for many businesses and personal groups to organize food or clothing drives to help those in need.
As a clinic community, Watershed Wellness embraces the values of compassion and the alleviation of suffering in all the people in our communities, no matter their financial means. To help continue to find ways to practice what we preach, we decided to host our first ever Winter Food Drive. Hunger is a scourge that we believe must be eliminated if we are to start working towards wider community wellness. In many ways, it starts with the basics – food being primary among them.
We are happy to say the food drive was more successful than we could have imagined!
We managed to donate 225 pounds of non-perishable items recommended by Oregon Food Bank, which equates to 188 meals to be distributed to families across Oregon. We thank each and every person who took the time, energy and money to contribute to people who may be struggling to get even a single regular meal a day.
For fun and in the spirit of community giving, we did add an incentive to our food drive contributions. Every person who donated three items was entered to win a Coastal Wellness Retreat at our Astoria clinic, which includes a one night stay at the Cannery Pier Hotel, three holistic health treatments at the clinic, AND a goodie bag with Eminence products and a Snow Lotus essential oil.
While people would have donated anyway – this certainly gave a little extra energy to the process. 🙂
Our super-lucky winner was drawn last week, and we’d like to congratulate Dina Pavlenko on her big win! With the big success of this food drive, we’d like to make this an annual tradition now, and invite everyone to participate as much and as often as they can for next year.
We’ll definitely be looking for more fun incentives so people are encouraged to break through the inertia that keeps so many of us from contributing.
Cheers from your practitioners at both clinics! Thank you!
Join us for the first Watershed Wellness holiday food drive – in partnership with the Oregon Food Bank
The cold and dark days have finally arrived, and the only time we’re spending outside these days is to stack firewood or gather bundles of leaves from the lawn. Not without its merits, however–winter is a wonderful time to spend time with loved ones, maybe curl up with a good book and a fire, and honestly, who doesn’t love winter squash?
That said, it’s not an easy season for everybody.
Winter months are tough for families who are struggling to put food on the table. Not everyone has access to groceries. In the spirit of the season this year, Watershed Wellness has decided to partner with Oregon Food Bank to bring you our Winter Food Drive for 2018! Help us help hundreds of families in Oregon have a better winter this season by donating non-perishable food.
Also, for our beloved clients, we’ve decided to run a little drawing for those of you who have appointments during the drive & want to participate.
Details can be found summarized below, or by downloading the flyer, or even checking out our social media accounts regularly.
- We’ll be collecting food for the Oregon Food Bank from November 23 to December 29
- Food collection is centered on the Portland WW location, but Astorians, get in touch if you want to be involved!
- A listing of the foods that are most needed, and other information, is located here – please do read it through.
- We will accept food donations from anyone in the community, regardless of whether they are current clients – and if you just want to make a cash donation to help out, you can do so by
following this link. All are welcome!
- Clients with appointments falling during the drive are going to get a special opportunity
- For every 3 items you bring in during your scheduled visit, you get one entry into a drawing to win a WW Coastal Retreat!
- See flyer for details of retreat – and know some surprises are likely to be added as we get closer to the end of the contest
- Bring in as much as you’re able to give! No limit to how many items you can donate!
- Every three items garners you an entry into the contest, so 12 items = four entries…
- There are still some appointments available, so don’t hesitate to jump on the schedule if you’ve been putting it off. Yeah, we know how it goes. 😉
- If you have questions, Amanda Koennecke is your source – reach out to her at any time.
Let’s come together in community to help all of us be better nourished this year.
In good health,
Your Watershed Wellness practitioners
As part of our “getting to know you” introduction of practitioners new to Watershed Wellness, we have one of our practitioners (in this case, esthetician Amanda Koennecke) experience a session with the new practitioner in order to share with you what the experience is like. Read on to find more about our newest massage therapist, Jessi Slavich.
By now, we must all realize how saturated Portland is with health and wellness solutions. It’s no secret that we live in a city that prides itself on alternative lifestyles, and with that comes alternative health care. This includes acupuncture, naturopathic doctors, estheticians, and especially massage. How are you supposed to pick a practitioner, with so many options for care?
Perhaps the biggest thing that sets practitioners apart from one another, is the ability to give great customer service. You could be the nation’s top massage therapist with an affinity for Swedish massage, but when it comes down to it–did your therapist carefully listen to your needs? Was the mood in the space a good one, or was it awkward? All of these elements, can quickly change the tone and tempo of the service. Lucky for us at Watershed Wellness, we’re in the business of hiring exceptionally talented practitioners that also happen to be terrific humans outside of work and beyond. Which brings me to my grand point: we hired another practitioner, and we’re super excited for everyone to meet her!
Meet Jessi, our new massage therapist.
To give you an inside look at the type of treatment Jessi offers, I dug deep and booked a massage with her to bring my research to the public (rough job, I know). Jessi has years of experience with body work, and it was evident in her massage. First, a thorough consultation in which we outlined the kind of work I was needing for that visit, followed by my choice of essential oil to enhance the massage.
The great thing about Jessi’s style of massage?
The focus and intent on what is needed at that very moment. Not just an all over massage with varying amounts of pressure, but a deep attention to what was necessary. Sure, she thoroughly massaged the base of my neck, which always needs work. But my tendonitis issues? She spent a great deal of time in a single spot. One hand, applying very direct pressure, and a wait to see how that muscle would react under her touch. It’s a practice amongst the most talented of massage therapists–pay attention to the muscles, not just relaxation needs of the client.
Good massage work should automatically include a sense of relaxation and well being, if it’s done right. But to have a thorough understanding of the body’s anatomy, to craft a truly unique massage service? Jessi hits all of these points. She even came back into the room with me, post-massage, to physically stretch my body out and teach me how to do these stretches at home.
What a breath of fresh air, to find great customer service and an elevated sense of body work. Get on her schedule before she’s completely booked!
Earlier this year, I realized that I needed a change in my life.
Portland has been getting busier and busier, and I was starting to realize that this busy-ness, the daily stress, was starting to have a cumulative effect on my body. In essence, I was shorting out. My nervous system couldn’t calm down and I’d developed an eye twitch. In my daily practices of yoga and meditation, I couldn’t let go all of the way. I knew that something had to change.
You may think that the life of a massage therapist has to be stress free, right? We spend long hours in dark rooms with relaxing music facilitating an environment that promotes stress relief, pain reduction and a possibility of letting go. But my life, like any Portlander’s life, is filled with complications, challenges, stress and the realities of living in a burgeoning city. I realized that I needed a change in my life. I realized that stress was starting to creep into my life, and into my body, in a way that was unexpected and that felt potentially harmful in the long term. What I needed was some serious stress management.
The more I learn about the negative effects of stress on the body, the more solid I get in why I chose massage therapy as a profession.
I talk to my clients all of the time about the effects of stress on their bodies, and I was starting to feel those effects in my own body in a real, and serious way. Heart disease, asthma, obesity, diabetes, headaches, depression, anxiety, gut problems – stress is a major contributor to all of these common health problems. Common health problems that we can, hopefully, prevent by managing our stress!
Massage for relaxation and stress reduction is often less valued than deep tissue or therapeutic massage. I often have clients who tell me that they don’t feel like they’ve had a massage if they don’t feel like you’ve “worked it out”. Sure, I’m all for getting into those points of pain and tension that we all feel, but I’m going to do it in a relaxing context. I’m going to facilitate and promote a sense of letting the body sink in and let go.
How does massage relieve stress?
Massage induces a relaxation state that slows your heart rate and breathing rate, your blood pressure goes down and your muscles relax. Massage also releases oxytocin into the body. Oxytocin is a hormone that is produced by the hypothalamus and is, interestingly, a stress hormone that is pumped into your body as part of the stress response. It motivates you to seek support in times of stress. Oxytocin is a natural anti-inflammatory and helps blood vessels stay relaxed during stress. It is enhanced by social contact and is known as the “cuddle hormone”. When you choose to connect with others when under stress, you become more resilient to stress. Oxytocin release lowers anxiety, facilitates healing, enhances digestion and increases trust.
Massage is one of the best ways to get oxytocin release into the body.
Seeking out massage for stress reduction is a safe way to connect with another person. Massage therapy is one of the few ways that we are allowed safe, non-agenda touch from another human. Even light touch has been shown to be helpful in releasing oxytocin.
Massage (even relaxation massage!) is not a luxury but rather a natural and enjoyable way to get some much needed stress relief in this world that seems to be moving very fast.
The massage therapists at Watershed Wellness are committed to providing therapeutic massages in a relaxing context. We love to work out the aches and pains, but we also realize that we provide a much needed reprieve and repair from the stressful things in life. We love what we do, and it comes through in our work. In fact, we get a similar oxytocin release by giving massages!
If you want to know more about how we can help, please reach out to us at email@example.com and we’re happy to answer any questions you may have. If you are ready to schedule, you may do so online here.
P.S. There’s a great TED talk that changes perspective on stress that we found to be helpful for this article.
I’ve had a couple of conversations with friends and colleagues about recent massages that they’ve received. Some of the feedback I heard about their massages with other practitioners was problematic, if not a little alarming.
A few things that I consistently hear about massages that weren’t the best include:
- the massage therapist talked too much
- pressure was off – either way too much or too little
- care was not taken to make sure you were comfortable – from the temperature being off, to the therapist leaving the room or not providing any closure to the session, to draping issues (it’s Oregon law to drape appropriately, by the way)
- being massaged in places/ways that you weren’t comfortable with.
There’s certainly work that goes in to creating a comprehensive massage session. An artful massage will not only include skillful techniques that are effective and relaxing, but will also combine education about what the therapist is seeing in your body, as well as make sure you are comfortable with what’s happening in the room at all times.
Here’s the Watershed Wellness primer on how to get the massage you need:
First and foremost, make sure that the therapist understands why you are coming in for a massage.
I’m usually overt about this, asking “what were you hoping I could do for you today?” If your therapist doesn’t ask right out, make sure that you let them know. Maybe you’ve been extra stressed and just need some relaxation time. Maybe you’re training for a marathon and need some muscular tension relief in specific areas. Whatever it is for you on that day, make sure that your therapist knows why you are coming in.
Let your massage therapist know what kind of pressure you like.
Again, a good therapist will address this in the intake, but if they don’t ask please let them know. Also, if during the massage the pressure is off either way, be sure to ask for an adjustment. Don’t feel like you have to grin and bear a painful pressure, and conversely don’t feel like you have to withstand the irritation of pressure that is too light and not quite getting to the problem spots.
If you feel uncomfortable at any time, let your massage therapist know.
If the temperature is too hot or too cold, if you hate the music, or if something is distracting you from completely letting go. Your massage therapist won’t be irritated or give you a hard time about this – they’ll just adjust to suit your needs.
The number one complaint I hear from clients is that their massage therapist was too chatty. It’s awkward to tell your massage therapist that you don’t want them to talk so you can relax. An easy way to deal with this is during the intake. Let your massage therapist know that you prefer a quieter massage, as this helps you relax. Remember: your massage session is not your massage therapist’s social time, it’s time for you to unwind and get great bodywork. Setting the framework from the beginning about your expectations are will go a long way – hopefully resulting in getting the quiet time that you are looking forward to.
Draping is not an option. Period.
In Oregon, we’re legally bound to cover our clients in a way that protects their modesty. To put it frankly, if your breasts or butt crack are showing, that is not ok. If you feel uncomfortable with your glutes being massaged, for instance (and there wasn’t a question about what you would prefer not to have massaged on the intake form) tell your massage therapist. There are ways to address areas like the gluteals and the stomach without compromising your own comfort. And always, if these are places that you’d rather not have your massage therapist work on, let them know!
Massage works best if you can to find a massage therapist that can work with you consistently.
Your massage therapist will get to know your body, your tension patterns, your comfort around pressure, music, temperature etc. You’ll have less of the “getting to know you” part of the session each time you come. Your LMT will be able to start to tailor the sessions to your needs with even more detail after a few sessions.
Your massage therapist will want to know if you had any adverse reactions to the massage.
One friend I spoke to had recently had a massage that caused her neck to spasm shortly afterwards. She felt that the massage therapist had not taken enough care when massaging in this area and had gone too deeply. Even though your massage therapist may have touched hundreds, if not thousands, of bodies, they don’t know your body more than you do. If you are feeling any discomfort during or after the massage, we want to know!
P.S. As a side note, we also like to know if things were awesome. If you feel better, that’s great feedback!
Our massage therapists at Watershed Wellness are all very adept at making sure that you have a great experience and leave feeling better in your body. It is our goal to understand what brings you in for massage, and to meet those needs in a way that is thoughtful and comfortable to you. If you are interested in scheduling with one of our excellent massage therapists, you can check out our online schedule. We hope that you’ll have an excellent experience and let others know. If there are ever ways that we can improve, I sincerely hope that you’ll let US know!
At a time of year when the weather tends to keep us indoors, it’s not uncommon to feel isolated and lonely.
In the darkness of Winter, many people come in requesting massage just for the sake of being touched. Examining this a little more closely, we know that touch can help to soothe anxieties, relieve stress, and of course, help with pain and tension that the body holds.
Touch is fundamental to being human.
There are a multitude of studies that show that regularly receiving touch decreases violence, increases trust, promotes stronger immunity, and helps with overall wellbeing. How does this work?
Massage, and touch in general, has been shown to increase production of oxytocin and serotonin, two of four neurotransmitters that are responsible for our happiness. Serotonin flows when you feel significant or important. Oxytocin creates feelings of trust, intimacy and builds healthy relationships and is essential for creating strong bonds and improved social interactions. Oxytocin, known as the cuddle hormone, can be released with something as simple as a hug.
While it’s not quite the same as receiving touch from another person, some of these same positive benefits can also be experienced through self massage.
Abhyanga (pronounced AhbYAWNga) is a form of self-massage that is derived from Ayurveda, the Indian system of medicine. Ayurveda has always included self massage as part of its daily regimen for promoting good health.
Performed daily, it can have the positive benefits of nourishing the entire body, lubricating the joints, increasing circulation and lymph flow, and promoting better sleep. It also gives you a chance to check in with your body and can soften, smooth and brighten your skin.
Traditionally, unrefined sesame oil is used to help warm the body. In the summer, an unrefined coconut oil can be used to help with excess heat in the body as it has a more cooling effect.
Self-Massage: Abhyanga Step by Step
Warm approximately 1/4 cup of oil using a glass jar in a vessel of warm water or a mug warmer.
Make sure the room is warm and comfortable.
Starting with your feet, take some time to rub the sesame oil into the soles of your feet.
Work your way up your legs with long strokes toward your heart, taking time around the joints with circular strokes (knees, hips, elbows).
Massage the abdomen and chest in broad, clockwise circular strokes.
On the belly, follow the path of the large intestine, moving up the right side of the stomach, across under your ribs, and down the left side in circular motions.
Finish the massage spending time on your face ears and scalp.
Let the oil sit on your skin for 5-15 minutes. This is a great time to throw on some old pajamas and cultivate your meditation practice.
Enjoy a warm bath or shower. Avoid using soap on the skin except for the more strategic areas to allow the oils to continue to nourish your skin. Try to avoid vigorously soaping and rubbing your body.
Towel dry gently, blotting away the moisture instead of rubbing your body dry.
The use of essential oils such as lavender or vanilla has been linked with the release of endorphins, which act to alleviate anxiety and depression.
Feel free to put a drop or two into your oil to enjoy the therapeutic benefits of these essential oils during your self-massage. Please take care getting in and out of the shower or bath with oil on your feet. You may want to use a warm washcloth to wipe your feet before bathing.
“The body of one who uses oil massage regularly does not become affected much even if subjected to accidental injuries, or strenuous work. By using oil massage daily, a person is endowed with pleasant touch, trimmed body parts and becomes strong, charming and least affected by old age”
Charaka Samhita Vol. 1, V: 88-89
(One of the Great ancient texts of Ayurveda)
Here’s another installment in our Healthbooks series discussing the late winter energy and how it affects many of us. You can read the inaugural article here, dig into nutritional approaches to late winter health, hear more perspectives on SAD and learn about how movement – especially Qigong – might help during this sometimes challenging time. For now, enjoy the new article.
I’m in love with springtime in Portland.
Already the Daphne buds are beginning to open and purple crocuses are popping up out of the wet earth. The sweet smells and the long succession of flowers emerging fills me with relief and joy. It always seems like a miracle, this annual return of beauty, after a season of bare branches, dormant gardens, and cold, damp weather!
But this time of year in Portland is confusing too!
As soon as I see and smell these early flowers I think, Spring is here! The ordeal of Winter is over! And then it continues to be grey, wet, and cold for much of the next several months. This late-winter limbo can be hard to endure.
Do you notice that you experience a significant mood change during the winter months? During an extended period of reduced natural sunlight, some people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder or, SAD. It is a type of depression that comes on in the winter months and lifts in the spring or summer. Mental/emotional symptoms may include sadness, anxiety, hopelessness or pessimism, feelings of guilt and worthlessness, helplessness, irritability and restlessness, and/or a loss of interest in pleasurable activities you used to enjoy. One may also experience difficulty concentrating, remembering details or making decisions and even have thoughts of death or suicide. Physical symptoms may include fatigue and decreased energy, difficulty sleeping or oversleeping, changes in appetite and changes in weight.
Clearly, with symptoms like these that have such a huge impact on a person’s quality of life and well-being, it’s important to treat SAD.
There’s a lot you can do to shake off the winter blues!
First of all, take yourself by the hand and get outside to take a walk through the neighborhood or in nature, or putter in a garden. Make sure that there is movement in your life (preferably something you love to do!).
Seek more sunlight, set up a light box, and take your vitamin D. Do your best to eat and sleep well, and to reach out to others. Consider massage or acupuncture. Talk to a doctor to rule out other causes of your symptoms and to customize a treatment for you. Get to know a new herb or two.
Here, I’ll outline how I work with patients to assess cases and give an idea of what a treatment plan might include.
First, I take the time to really get to know each patient. Of course, I‘ll ask about a person’s present symptoms, their medical history and family history and what medications and supplements they are taking or have taken in the past. I’ll also want to know about a person’s diet, physical activity, sleep, relationships, life-stressors, use of alcohol or recreational drugs and the ways they practice self-care.
I’ll usually order lab tests. When a person suffers with symptoms of depression, it’s wise to rule out physiologic causes like anemia, hypothyroid, blood sugar imbalances, or vitamin D or B vitamin deficiencies. In some cases I will also rule out other hormonal imbalances. All of this information helps me to evaluate and reach an accurate diagnosis and then tailor a treatment to a specific patient.
A comprehensive treatment plan to treat SAD would begin with dietary recommendations to optimize nutrition and keep blood sugar balanced, along with a customized exercise plan. I would also address sleep problems and provide counseling pertaining to self-care and stress reduction.
I would prescribe dietary supplements that have been proven to be supportive, including a methylated B complex, vitamin D3, omega 3 fatty acids, and probiotics. I would also do acupuncture.
Acupuncture has also been shown to be very effective in treating depression.
Results have proven as effective as Prozac and appeared weeks earlier, without the side effects of the medication.
I would discuss light therapy. Research has shown light therapy can also perform as well as Prozac for SAD. I educate patients on what kind of light box they should get, as well as advise them on the positioning of the light and timing of treatments. Also, I would offer referral to counselors or psychiatrists as needed.
Herbal medicine is one of my favorite treatments. I love to create herbal formulas customized to each patient. I have found that herbs alone can keep some people from dipping into seasonal depression, and treat SAD and depression in cases that are mild. There are two herbs that deserve special mention in treating SAD: St. John’s Wort and Lemon Balm.
The Latin name for St. John’s Wort is Hypericum perforatum. Hypericum comes from the Greek word hyperikon which combines the two words, hyper, meaning ‘over’ and eikon, meaning ‘image or apparition’, a reference to the belief that the herb could ward off evil spirits. Interesting, isn’t it, that today it’s used to ward off our inner demons of depression and dispel the darkness of seasonal affective disorder?
St. John’s Wort has a sunny yellow flower whose common name refers to the fact that it historically blooms on or near St. John’s Day, or Summer Solstice, also known as Midsummer. It blooms at the time of year when the sun is highest and the days are longest, and it seems that it also imparts the sun’s qualities of brightness and energy to us when we ingest it as well. St. John’s Wort has been studied extensively for the treatment of depression and anxiety, and for treating SAD.
It has been found to be a safe and very effective treatment for these conditions.
It has been found to positively affect the neuroendocrine system in multiple ways, increasing serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine, as well as influencing levels of glutamate and GABA. For an adult, the recommended dose of St. John’s wort is 300mg, three times per day. As a tincture, 20-30 drops, three times per day, is recommended.
Because St. John’s wort is so effective at increasing serotonin levels in the brain, it is not a safe treatment for people who are already on SSRI (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibiting) antidepressant medications, as together they could increase a person’s serotonin to a dangerous level. This is an herb where care should be taken if a patient is on ANY prescription medication.
St. John’s wort ‘up-regulates’ a couple of liver detoxification pathways, meaning it could cause the body to break down medications too quickly and reduce their effectiveness, including reducing the effectiveness of oral contraceptives. Take extra care with sun exposure while taking St. John’s wort, as it can increase sun sensitivity and sunburn.
St. John’s wort also has anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antibacterial effects. Research has also shown it to be helpful in treating symptoms of PMS, menopause, OCD and social phobia. It also can be used topically to help eczema and minor irritations and injuries to the skin.
The other herb that I love to use to treat SAD is lemon balm, Melissa officinalis. The Latin Melissa means ‘bee’, and indeed, bees are delighted by the unassuming but sweet-smelling Melissa flowers when they bloom. Part of the Laminacea, or mint family, lemon balm gets its common name because of it’s lemony scent and flavor. It’s leaves are full of fragrant essential oils, which rub off on your fingers and make lemon balm tea delicious. Ancient nicknames for lemon balm are ‘heart’s delight’ and ‘the gladdening herb’.
An old Arabian proverb says that “balm makes the heart merry and joyful”.
It is an herb that is both uplifting and soothing to the spirits, and it was traditionally used to treat ‘melancholy’. Lemon balm is gentle and safe enough for babies and children, as well as adults. Used in combination with other herbs, it’s helpful in treating anxiety and insomnia due to nervousness.
Lemon balm can boast many other health benefits, such as it’s soothing effect on digestion, and it’s antiviral abilities. One caution with taking lemon balm is that it can have a thyroid-suppressing effect if taken in very large amounts. In fact it is used in some cases where the thyroid gland is overactive.
As I mentioned before, lemon balm makes a lovely tea. The ritual of preparing a pot of tea for oneself and stopping to sit and sip a fragrant, steaming cup adds to the healing. Pinch or snip off the tops of the fresh plant and add a large handful to a teapot or mason jar, fill with boiled water, and allow to steep, covered for at least 20 minutes. If using dried loose leaf lemon balm tea, add one tablespoon of herb per cup of hot water. Traditional Medicinals also makes an organic lemon balm tea in teabags that I recommend. Drink a cup 2-3 times a day.
St. John’s wort, however, is best taken as a tincture, which is an alcohol and water extraction, or encapsulated.
Whenever you take herbal medicine it’s critical to be aware of the source and quality of the herbs. Unfortunately, the supplement industry is so poorly regulated that herbal products often contain ineffective or dangerous ingredients, and often do not actually include the herb that is listed on the label. I usually recommend Herb Pharm as a source of good quality herbal medicine. With it’s bright orange labels, it’s easy to find in health food stores. I personally know the owner, and trust the expertise and integrity of this company completely. Vitanica, Oregon’s Wild Harvest, Gaia, Mountain Rose and Urban Moonshine are other excellent sources of herbs.
If you find yourself inspired to, you can also learn to make your own medicines. Both St. John’s wort and lemon balm grow happily and like weeds in the Pacific Northwest. You’re likely to spot lemon balm growing along the sidewalk as you walk through Portland’s older neighborhoods. You’re more likely to find St. John’s wort in an abandoned lot or field. They’re both distinctive enough to easily identify once you know their distinguishing features. They’re both abundant and easy to harvest for making into medicines for yourself.
Wishing you well. Hang in there. The days are getting longer, and the flowers are starting to open. This too shall pass.
Many of us know the feeling of sadness that can descend when it is dark and grey outside. I grew up in a very sunny place and first experienced this feeling during my second winter in Portland. It was definitely a challenge at first to figure out the best way to deal with the lack of sunlight for so long, but I was told it was possible. I also fully understood what people meant when they talked about Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. It certainly makes one sad, or worse.
If you are like me, you might find yourself wanting to stay home in the evenings, or even on weekends, out of the wind and rain. This is not an unreasonable thing to want to do. Not many of us really enjoy being cold and damp! However, it can serve to isolate during a time when one might already feel sad or isolated.
The fact that there is less sunlight is also a challenge. Our bodies thrive on sunlight. In the PNW, it isn’t just the lack of sunlight that can cause problems, but the angle of the sunlight. The angle is simply not allowing us to get the same benefit from what little sun we do get to see as we would in the summer.
Why does the lack of sunlight affect many of us this way?
Our biological clock and brain chemicals, or neurotransmitters, are very sensitive to sunlight, or the lack thereof. When there is less light, our circadian rhythms can shift causing our internal clock to get out of balance. This can lead to feelings of depression. Also melatonin production is thrown off due to the decrease in light. Our daily schedules have us getting up in the dark and going to bed in the dark. When our melatonin is not being produced properly, it can disrupt our sleeping patterns, making us sleepy or awake at inappropriate times. Additionally, serotonin, a neurotransmitter that lifts our mood, can drop during the winter due to a lack of sunlight.
As you can see, the sun is central to how we feel psychologically. It also can affect how we feel physically, which affects our moods, creating quite a circle of events.
Fear not, however
There are things that you can do during the winter to help reduce the symptoms of SAD. Future articles will spend more time on nutritional, naturopathic, physical, and chinese medicine solutions to the complex of disorders that can emerge during this time of year. I would like to focus on ways that you can support your mood mentally, spiritually, and socially.
One, very simple, option to support your health during this time is to invest in a light box. A light box simulates sunlight and can go a long way toward maintaining all of the brain functions that are affected by sunlight. It is easy to use and makes a big difference in the depression many of us feel during this time.
Another way for many of us to improve our moods is to be around other people. For extroverts, this will feel pretty obvious, but even introverts can benefit from social interaction with one or two close friends. Many of us prefer to stay home out of the cold and wet. If you have a strong support system of people who are going to stay home with you, this is a perfect time to consider doing fun indoor activities together.
Putting together a puzzle, playing games, cooking healthy and warming meals, or even talking to one another can be very supportive. These things will keep your mind engaged. The connections with others doing things you enjoy boosts your neurotransmitters, like serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin, and improves your mood. If you live alone, or with people you don’t do fun things with, consider setting up meetings between friends to do fun things together. Again, this can be a big group or a small one, depending on your preferences.
Meditation is also a great way to support our brains during the dark time of the year.
Even if you do not have a formal meditation style, simply sitting quietly and taking deep breaths in the morning and evening can help to center your body and mind. Praying or using gratitude lists can also help us focus on positive things and let our brains take a break from feeling icky.
If you already see a counselor or therapist, this time of year is the perfect time to be proactive and make sure you are going regularly to talk. Adding an additional appointment or two to your normal schedule might be helpful. If you do not have someone professional to talk to, it is worth considering.
Talking to a therapist does not mean you are “crazy.” In fact, talking to a professional who can listen and offer helpful suggestions is a great way to handle the challenges we all face in life. When it comes to SAD, a counselor can help you come up with strategies to work through or cope healthily with depressive feelings.
If this is your first experience dealing with SAD, it might be scary and feel beyond your control. Making small changes and being kind to yourself will help you through this first winter. If you have dealt with SAD for years, remember that putting support into place in the summer and early fall is incredibly helpful. It might not in the forefront of your mind when you are floating on the river in the sunlight, but it can make a huge difference when the darkness comes.
Always remember that it is important to reach out to professionals for help when things seem overwhelming. The sunlight will return. I promise.
It’s Saturday, January 9th, and the clinic is warm and toasty. Ladd’s Addition is grey and wintery-looking, but the neighborhood still bustles with people and business no matter the time of year. Inside, I’m washing up, and then I’ll sip on some tea while I wait for my massage with Watershed Wellness’s newest LMT, Lisa Marie White.
Coming out to greet me, she’s all smiles, not to mention seeming to be a tiny little thing. But I know better. Some of the strongest massage therapists I’ve encountered looked liked they weighed a buck-ten, if that. I’m in for a therapeutic session; I can tell. The best kind of “beat-up”.
Before we step into the treatment room, I level with her. “Look, before we get started, I just wanted to ask you a few questions about your massage practice, so our clients can get a sense of what to expect from the new addition to our crew. Have you got a minute?” She laughs, taking a seat across from me.
Lisa Marie’s approach to massage therapy comes from a healing place, one that actually started out in the field of nursing.
As it turns out, she became frustrated as a registered nurse and the western medicine system in general. Needing a change and wanting to do even more for the physical health of people, she sought out her path in massage therapy. She counts heat application as the number one pre-and-post massage advice, noting that heat application helps circulation and to cradle the increased blood flow that happens during and after a massage. Five years into her practice now, I’m excited for what lies ahead for her in her time at Watershed.
On the table, I’m facedown, disrobed, and ready to rock. I’m also sustaining an ankle injury, which she’s going to treat with some topical drainage and heat application. Her touch is a strong one (called it!), and almost echoes that of a physical therapist.
No messing around here, she’s treating you for your body aches and pains AND getting you to relax at the same time.
She’s also mindful to ask if the pressure is comfortable, and can adjust to my liking at any time. Strong hands, warm bedside manner, and some tips for stretching and appropriate water intake after my massage. She hits all the notes of a successful practitioner in a single hour-long treatment.
The Finale: When I asked her what she loved most about massage therapy, her answer was quick and assured, without hesitation. “I really love being able to support people in finding their best health. Reconnecting people to their better self. It’s my passion.”
Beautiful, and accurate. Welcome to Watershed Wellness…we’re happy you’re here. Don’t waste any time – get on her schedule today!