Let the light in

Books can confirm whatever feelings you have.  - Contributed photo
Books can confirm whatever feelings you have.
— image credit: Contributed photo

By Cali Bagby, Islands Sounder reporter

Dr. Frank James, San Juan County health officer, said that 1 to 2 percent of Americans have a seasonal affective disorder, known as SAD, which basically means they become depressed when there is less light.

SAD tends to affect women more then men and young rather than older people, added James.

Luckily there is an easy solution to this problem. You can purchase lights that mimic the sun by producing 10,000 lux (a measurement of light intensity).

James said 30 minutes of exposure to these lights can be helpful.

“Some people may benefit from steady exposure or just a couple times a week,” he added.

According to the Mayo Clinic, light therapy can also be used to help adjust daily sleep cycles (circadian rhythm), which may play a role in mood.

Move those feet

BikingJames said that 75 percent of people affected by depression get better through medication, 70 percent see improvement through talk therapy and 70 percent see an increase in mood through exercise.

“The problem with exercise is that people are often too depressed to get off the couch,” said James. For people facing that level of lethargy, James recommends seeking medication or talk therapy first and then focus on getting exercise back into their lives.

“Exercise can prevent major depression,” said James.

The recommended dose of physical activity is 40 minutes a day. If that sounds like a lot, don’t be alarmed, even every day tasks like cleaning the house or taking a walk can count as exercise. James said as long as you are slightly out of breath, but could still maintain a conversation then you are at the right level of physical exertion.

If you can get outdoors during the day and combine light exposure while raising your heart rate, then you may have an easier time escaping the winter blues.

James said light indoors is “wimpy” compared to outside light even when the days are overcast.

“Combining exercise and light is a fabulous idea,” said James.

If you want to go the extra mile and make sure exercise stays in your daily routine, James recommends getting a workout buddy.

Make a new furry friend

Furry friend

“There is nothing better than coming in and playing with a kitten or a cat to make you laugh during the winter blahs,” said Shelter Manager Marsha Waunch.

And unlike humans, the animals aren’t aware of the winter blues they just know someone is there to play with them and give them love and are happy to return those affections. Waunch said watching the kittens play with volunteers is hilarious

Taking a shelter dog for a walk, gets you out in the fresh air, clear our minds and helps us to think positively, she added.

“I’m never in a bad mood when I am at the shelter,” Waunch added. “I just get so much pleasure for these sweet faces and furry bodies and knowing each personality.”

For more info, visit

Feed your brain

Phil Heikkinen, director of the Orcas Public Library, said that books can confirm whatever feelings you have. For instance you can pick up a dark subject, or material that is just entertaining or something uplifting and spiritual.

And even books that are purely entertaining, according to Heikkinen, can feed your imagination more than watching TV.

“Reading is more active, you are drawing connections and it’s intellectual,” he said. “Almost like hiking, but you don’t have to leave the room. It’s exercise for your brain.”

Heikkinen tries to keep a balance between keeping equal numbers of non-fiction and fiction on his nightstand.

Feed your brain

He compares this practice to “running a  couple of miles to earn your junk food.”

For Heikkinen, having a series written by a good author, who provides compelling and interesting characters is a reliable “friend” that you can always trust.

“After having a rough day it’s comforting to sit in bed and read a good book and it’s much more cozy than TV,” he said.

If people are looking for new reads, Heikkinen and the rest of the staff are always available at the front desk to share their favorite authors and offer suggestions.

“It’s a time to share a world for a few minutes,” said Heikkinen. “Reading can increase your horizons, takes you out of the smaller picture and to a lot of different experiences in a short amount of time.”

To share your love of literature, join the Book Club that meets the first Friday of every month,  noon to 1 p.m. in the conference room. For more info, visit


With Moran State Park and the splendid views from Mount Constitution and the lush trails of Turtleback Mountain, it’s easy to forget the wonders of other location in our archipelago. Grab a friend or loved one and hire a scenic flight, it might be high-time to get a new perspective of island life.

If you’d rather be on the ground than with your head in the clouds, bundle up with your winter best and a hot thermos of cocoa and visit any of these premier hiking spots:

• “The Whale Watch Park” also known as Lime Kiln State Park on San Juan

• The Cattle Point Light House in the San Juan Island National Park

• Lopez Hill, Watmough Bight and Shark Reef are all premier destinations on Lopez

Winter is also a good time for reflection and a chance to not only explore the outer world, but explore some internal dimensions. Perhaps you have always wanted to take up knitting, watercolors or guitar. You don’t have to wait until the New Year to add something to your daily routine.


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