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Father Knows Best: Fighting Seasonal Depression

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By Martin Elfert

Hey Rev!

All this gray weather is bringing me down. How can I avoid seasonal depression?


Dear Stan:

I know that a lot of folks are not fans of the changing of the clocks in the springtime, that many of us don’t care for the annual hour of lost sleep and the several days of chronological confusion that follows. And I get that: the week after the change is a bit like having jet lag, except without the benefit of travelling anywhere. But notwithstanding these very real downsides, I will confess to loving the day when the clocks spring forward.

I love the Sunday when daylight saving begins not just because of the suddenly longer evenings and the echoes they hold of childhood games in the golden hour after dinner. I love this change in time because it is one of the signposts or markers that helps me to get through the winter.

I survive the short days of the Pacific Northwest – the relentless drizzle, the cloud cover hovering over everything like a morose cat, the sun’s borderline immoral decision to set at 4.30 in the afternoon – by dividing it into manageable chunks, each of which has a definite ending, and then saying to myself:

I can make it until the next marking.

This, Stan, is more or less the same strategy that I use for climbing a long and steep hill on my bicycle. It is almost always too far, too much, to say, “I’ll peddle all the way to the top.” So what I say, instead, is “I’ll peddle to that tree 20 yards from here.” And then, once I make it to that tree, I say, “I’ll go to the next tree” (or to the next crack in the pavement or to the next parked car or to wherever). As the sad gray of November rolls in, I say, “I can make it to the winter solstice,” and after that, “I can make it to daylight saving time.”

Beyond looking for markers to get you through the overcast months, Stan, my suggestions are pretty much all technical fixes: Vitamin D supplements are remarkably effective; I know a number of folks who like those lamps that simulate daylight (I tried one for a year – I don’t know that it shifted my mood at all, but it was good to feel like I was doing something); keeping your calendar filled with meaningful activities will generally your energy level; and, if you can afford it, the airlines and the hospitality industry will cheerfully sell you a week or two of sunshine.

This year, the weather aligned with the change in the clock, so that the week after daylight saving returned brought us not only suddenly generous evening light but also the reappearance of the sun. (It had been so long since I set eyes on the sun that I was almost alarmed to see a glowing orb in the sky.) For the first time in what feels like a long time, we can be outside without being totally bundled up, we can exhale without our breath hanging like little clouds around us. The gray is not entirely done. But the winter is slowly coming to an end. Signpost by signpost, marking by marking, we have made it, for now, to the top of the hill.

About Martin Elfert

The Rev. Martin Elfert is an immigrant to the Christian faith. After the birth of his first child, he began to wonder about the ways in which God was at work in his life and in the world. In response to this wondering, he joined Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he and his new son were baptized at the Easter Vigil in 2005 and where the community encouraged him to seek ordination. Martin served on the staff of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Spokane, Wash. from 2011-2015. He is now the rector of Grace Memorial Episcopal Church in Portland, Oreg.

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