Seattle

The Secret to Seasonal Sadness

Author: Natalie Andrewski

As the winter season blossoms into spring, it is almost impossible to notice a change of environment here in Seattle. Not only are flowers blooming and the sun is beginning to make more adamant appearances, but the people of this city seem to begin transitioning as well. During the winter months, the “Seattle Freeze”, as the often passive aggressive and not-so-welcoming demeanor of local Seattleites has been labeled by transplants, is very apparent. Groups of friends prefer to remain exclusive, and the activities they participate in may usually occur inside. However, once Spring has sprung, the frozen attitudes of Seattleites appears to defrost. Parks all over the city are filled with groups of people attempting the ever-tricky slack line, running with unexpected zeal, and hiking to new ascents. Rather than avoiding eye contact, members of the city are engaging in conversations with new people in attempt to try a new activity or finally say hello to a familiar face. I began to question why a singular season transition could have such a stark contrast in an entire city’s demeanor, and I believe my answer lies in the notion of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Growing up in Southern California, I was surrounded by sunshine basically 365 days a year. Most days were glorious enough to be spent outside, and my mom often referred to me as her “sunflower”. When I was in the 6th grade, my family migrated from California to the Pacific Northwest. Of course, the year we moved to Washington was recorded as having record rain fall in the Olympia area, and my days of playing outside were replaced with indoor entertainment. Even in my younger days, I knew my energy levels and happiness was positively correlated with my time spent in the sunshine. I began to struggle with depression, even though I didn’t quite understand that concept yet, and I would suffer from stress that would effect my quality of health poorly. After all these years, I have finally made the connection between the weather and my mood.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a “mood disorder subset in which people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year exhibit depressive symptoms at the same time each year, most commonly in the winter”. It is quite an extraordinary event that people can maintain a stable mental health pattern for the majority of the year, but then be so affected by light levels that an imbalance occurs in the brain. These imbalances can lead to depression, hopelessness, and suicide. The main chemical involved in the brain during this process is serotonin, which is recorded as being in lower than average levels in patients suffering from the disorder. It appears that the brain becomes incapable of converting serotonin into N-acetylserotonin, which involves the enzyme serotonin N-acetyltransferase. In certain cases, antidepressants function by increasing levels of the enzyme serotonin N-acetyltransferase in order to increase levels of conversion and a reduction of depression-like symptoms. It has been discovered that patients that suffer from this disorder often have a delay in their circadian rhythm, which is a delay in their sleep patterns. The relation to sleep patterns also promotes the idea that the hormone melatonin is affected by this disorder. There are a variety of other factors that can contribute to suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, including a person’s predisposition to personality traits, such as agreeableness and an avoidance-orientated coping style (Seasonal Affective Disorder).

In order to begin alleviating the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder, the interventions of light therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and supplementation of the hormone melatonin have been utilized, but I will focus on light therapy. In terms of light therapy, the use of a lightbox that emits an elevated level of lumens is necessary. The lights of the lamps can range in wavelength and lumen levels, usually depending on the light of the lamp: bright white “full spectrum” lights at 10,000 lux, blue light at a wavelength of 480 nm at 2,500 lux, or green-blue light at a wavelength of 500 nm at 350 lux. The process of light therapy usually lasts 30-60 minutes of being exposed to the light consistently.

 

Sources:

Seasonal Affective Disorder.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/seasonal-affective-disorder/index.shtml.

I Don't Have Time!

Author: Olivia Tang

Whether it’s because of school, work, or a combination of both. Our professional and educational lives seem to get in the way of doing what we love!

Admittedly, when I started my first year of college I had trouble adjusting to the class structure and the freedom of choosing what to do with my time. Teachers in high school would spend more time on topics than professors in college. The pace of college classes was faster as well.

Being new to the college grind, I didn’t know how to allocate my time for my classes while also leaving time for fun and social life. This made it easy for me to think that I didn’t have any free time at all. Everything became more manageable after I started planning.

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I started writing down all my tasks for the day into my sketchbook. I write everything I need to get done for the next week, and I circle all the important tasks I need to get done. I find that crossing off the tasks at the end of the day to be incredibly satisfying, and whenever I don’t have a spurt of motivation when I need it I use that time to draw in my sketchbook. It gives me more time to look at the to do list I’ve made for myself on the page and it also gives me time to do something I love, drawing! Psychologists say that 25% of our happiness comes from how we manage our own stress.

We feel happiness due to the effects of Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin and Endorphins. Together these chemicals help design our own happiness. According to Nicole Lazzaro, a world-renowned game designer that specializes on gamifying experiences, each chemical that affects our happiness plays a different role in how we experience happiness.

Lazzaro explains that we typically think of Dopamine as the “happiness drug” when in reality dopamine more affects our feeling of anticipation. Oxytocin is the chemical that allows us to feel empathy, and we feel closer to close friends and family when it is released. Serotonin is a mood regulated, which means it is responsible for our good moods and our bad moods, and Endorphins are hormones that mask pain and discomfort and help us power through workouts and achieve our goals.(Buckner)

Stress depletes these chemicals. When we are stressed we produce the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol depletes our levels serotonin and dopamine--chemicals that affect our motivation, and susceptibility to depression and anxiety. It’s normal to deal with stress, but it is not easy to deal with. Psychologist, Robert Epstein says “The most important way to manage stress is to prevent it from ever occurring.”- which means planning ahead!

Sources:

Buckner, Clark. "4 Chemicals That Activate Happiness, and How to Use Them."TechnologyAdvice. N.p., 18 Oct. 2017. Web. 01 Feb. 2018.

"Chronic Stress – The Effects On Your Brain." Australian Spinal Research Foundation. N.p., 30 June 2016. Web. 01 Feb. 2018.

Peláez, Marina Watson. "Plan Your Way to Less Stress, More Happiness." Time. Time, 31 May 2011. Web. 01 Feb. 2018.

Getting in the Habit

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Author: Kelsey Fukuda

As a senior in college, I want to express thankfulness towards my parents for continuously involving me in activities when I was younger.

In middle and high school, they encouraged me to join cheerleading, gymnastics, and ice skating. I admit that it was a lot easier to feel healthy when I was constantly exercising and had home cooked meals for me. When I started college, I had only moved about 15 miles away from home, but I was living in the dorms away from my family.

It was hard adjusting to a life where I was so busy with school work and I felt like I didn’t have the time or energy to maintain healthy habits.

 

In my junior year I started running with my roommate on a consistent basis. When you exercise with a friend, there’s a lot of joint motivation and you try to keep each other accountable. Now, in my senior year, my roommate stopped running but I’ve continued going. This is a huge contrast from what my life used to be like. Before, I used to think that exercising without being on a team or without a coach would be scary and difficult.

Looking back, I think the hardest thing about habits is introducing new ones into your life. It’s disruptive when you’ve become comfortable with something else. The next hardest thing is maintaining what you are doing when you start doing things right. However, just forcing myself to start leading a healthier lifestyle was a huge factor in improving how I feel now. Setting goals for myself that I felt like I could achieve greatly improved my mindset. Studies find that exercising is so good for your health AND your brain! Aerobic exercise improves brain function. Running in particular is associated with cell growth in the hippocampus (part of the brain related to learning and memory).

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My other habit I had issues with that I’m still working on involves cooking. My dad loves to cook, so before I moved away for college I hardly ever went out to eat. Last year I was talking with a classmate about desiring to cook my own meals more. She exclaimed that she recently started cooking her own meals and gave me a few tips: have a few favorite recipes, compile recipe lists for grocery shopping, and meal prep whenever possible.

One study found that cooking at home is both healthier and cheaper. Home cooked meals are associated with greater dietary compliance. Making home cooked meals has so many benefits and I want to get better at making it a habit! In relation to the brain, cooking helps people organize, prioritize, sustain focus, solve problems, retrieve memories and multitask.

My main takeaway for getting in the habit of exercising or cooking: if you have time, just do it! These habits are both better for you and they make you feel better yourself.

Sources:

https://www.brainhq.com/brain-resources/everyday-brain-fitness/physical-exercise  

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170314150926.htm

https://healthybrains.org/cooking-cognition-making-meal-good-brain

Being a Gymnast

Author: Catherine Bennion

As a semi-serious gymnast, I can easily say that there is no other relief like the relief that comes from exercise. There are few feelings greater than reaching a goal that I have been working towards for a while, or leaving a good workout feeling proud and accomplished. Being in school, I often go to practice after a long and stressful day and the last thing I want to do is exercise. It seems like too much, and a waste of time when I could be doing other things to reduce stress. Though after practice, I always leave feeling accomplished and free of stress, and exercise was a great distraction for all of the many other things going on in my life. This is because exercise triggers the release of chemicals in your body such as serotonin, norepinephrine, endorphins, dopamine. These chemicals dull pain, release stress, and make you happier. Not only will exercise make you feel better, but exercising even just once a week is great for your physical health.

Not only is exercise good for your physical health, but it is overwhelmingly great for your brain as well. Increased level of exercise are linked to decreases in depression, better memory, and faster learning. Additionally, recent studies have shown that exercising is the best way to prevent or delay the onset of Alzheimer's. Though it is not clear why, scientists know that exercise changes the structure of the brain for the better. It increases blood flow to the brain which helps to promote the growth of new brain cells. It also triggers the release a protein in the brain called BDNF that triggers the growth of new neurons and helps to mend and protect the brain from regeneration.

I have been doing gymnastics for 12 years now and I can easily say that I have never regretted going to practice, though I have regretted not going. Exercise is one of the best releases for stress, as well as improving self-esteem and making you feel great! Next time you have an hour to spare, consider doing something active; go for a run or bike ride, take a yoga class or go for a swim, whatever works for you.

Sources:

http://time.com/4474874/exercise-fitness-workouts/

A Reflection on Autism Awareness Month

We're coming to the end of April, Autism Awareness Month. But have any of us become anymore aware? Do any of us know that 30% of people who live with disabilities live below the poverty line? This includes those who have autism spectrum disorder. Most people don't know that this condition is called Autism Spectrum Disorder for a reason. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, "Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior.  Autistic disorder, sometimes called autism or classical ASD, is the most severe form of ASD. While other conditions along the spectrum include a milder form known as Asperger syndrome, and childhood disintegrative disorder and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (usually referred to as PDD-NOS)." Most of those who live with this condition are diagnosed at a younger age due to unusual behavior and the inability to meet miles stones such as talking by age two. There has been success in helping treat symptoms with therapy but like no person with Autism is the same, no treatment can be the same. Most of these catered services and therapies are not covered by insurance and can be too expensive for these individuals and their families to afford.

Plus One Foundation held an event geared towards individuals with ASD, it was our Free Art Care for Everyone Work Shop. This event allowed these people to express themselves in the company of one another through paint and arts and crafts at Seattle Pacific University. According to the American Art Therapy Association, "art therapy is a mental health profession that uses the creative process of art making to improve and enhance the physical, mental and emotional well-being of individuals of all ages. It is based on the belief that the creative process involved in artistic self-expression helps people resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, increase self-esteem and self-awareness, and achieve insight.” A lot of individuals that have autism lack the ability to speak or process language and verbal communication, but what they can do is process information visually. They record information through images and visual information. This makes expressing themselves through this way by using art is essential.

Art Workshop 1Art Workshop 2

Plus One Foundation will be hosting more Art, Pilates, and Melt workshops. We invite those who have autism or care for someone with ASD to join. For more information about these workshops and the opportunity to apply for one on one programs visit our website.

www.plusonefoundation.org