Winter is coming

2013-10-28 by Jason Freedman
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Guy's Head in Lamp Cartoon

I struggled last winter.

A few months past raising my Series B, 42Floors felt stalled.  I felt stalled.  This wasn’t how it was supposed to feel.  Even with an awesome team, plenty of money in the bank, and the commercial real estate industry welcoming us…everything just felt impossible.

But now we’re rocking.  The site is super fast.  Features are shipping incredibly fast.  Team is uber motivated.  And users are responding.  The metrics are up.   It’s  a joy to update investors with so much good news.

What a difference a few months makes.

 

***

 

This isn’t a post about a miraculous startup turnaround.  In fact, there was no turnaround.  All that happened is the normal ebb and flow of startup growth. Sometimes you get stuff right, sometimes you get stuff wrong.  Iterate and continue.

This is a post about our shift in mindset.  Or at least mine.

The San Francisco Indian summer is coming to an end.  The days have been long.  We’ve had several months of warm weather and sunny days.  And I see optimism and hope everywhere.  I feel optimism and hope.  It doesn’t surprise me at all.  I make the same observation every year.

 

***

 

I first found out about my seasonal affective disorder during high school.  In both my junior and senior years, I was shocked at how nothing seemed to be going my way during the months of November through April.  I remember how purposeless it all was.  Those were the months when my grades suffered.  Those were the months when I fought with my parents.  Those were the months in which I lacked passion to be the person I wanted to be.

But the most amazing thing would happen each year.  As summer came around, the fog would lift, my mood would brighten and almost magically life would get better.

 

***

 

I’ll step back for a second for those of you who are not familiar with seasonal affective disorder and give you the briefest of overviews.

 

Seasonal affective disorder (also called SAD) is a type of depression that occurs at the same time every year. If you’re like most people with seasonal affective disorder, your symptoms start in the fall and may continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody.

 

I urge you not to be too afraid of the words disorder or depression.  In fact, just think of it as the winter blues, which affect us all.  And all seasonal affective disorder is, is a bit more of the winter blues.

I’ve been waiting to write this post for several months now because I wanted to write it when everyone was really clear in their heads, including me.  I feel like last year’s winter was really tough on the startup community.  We lost a couple of our own to suicide.  I don’t know either of them close enough to comment on them specifically. But I do know that many of my friends were fighting with winter depression last year.  And only a few them knew how to deal with it.

 

***

 

For anyone that knows me personally or has read my posts on sleep, you know that I wake up to extremely bright lights every morning. I’m not talking about a simple sunrise alarm clock. My lights are so bright that they actually alter the chemistry of my body.  With only 30 minutes of exposure in the morning, my uber-bright lights stimulate serotonin within my body and that, along with some vitamin D3 supplements, is my antidote to seasonal depression.

We do so much damage to our bodies by being inside most of the time, and that damage is compounded in critical ways during the winter months.  The light your body receives through office lighting is not nearly bright enough to replace the rays of direct sunshine.  It only actually takes about 30 minutes of bright direct sunlight to stimulate serotonin.

If you think back to last winter, how many days in a row did you go without getting at least half-an-hour of direct bright sunlight?  I would love to recommend that everyone just make sure that they spend time outside in direct sunlight, but what I found is that while you’re in the midst of seasonal affective depression, you are less motivated to try to make it better.  The haziness in your eyes is simply too blinding.  So that’s why I waited until now to post this because if this is resonating with you, now is the exact time to act.  With the memories fresh in your mind, prepare yourself for the upcoming winter.

 

How to Beat The Winter Blues

 

Read up

If any of this post has been new to you so far, you have a duty to yourself to do your own research.  I would recommend starting here, here and here.  If you start to feel like this stuff is too clinical, read about it from your entrepreneur peers like Brad Feld, Steli Efti, and Allie Brosch.

 

Buy some lights

You want to get lights that are at least 5,000 lux and preferably 10,000 lux.  I recommend checking out Biobrite – that’s your first stop with the Per3 and the Philips light products as secondary options.  Anything that doesn’t explicitly say it is either 5,000 or 10,000 lux is not going to do the job of stimulating serotonin.

 

Check your D3 levels

Most Americans are chronically deficient of vitamin D3 and there is very little harm to taking a supplement.  You can buy them at any grocery store or Amazon.  Getting in the habit of taking one every day, especially if you’re someone that’s prone to any type of depression.  You can also check your actual levels with your doctor.

 

Make your exercise routine dependable

Did you exercise straight through your winter depression or did it fall away?  I’ve always found that the only exercise routines that work while I’m also feeling lethargic are the ones that involve some sort of social commitment – team sports or group workouts.  Those are the type of exercise routines you want on your side.  Anything that relies on individual motivation can fail on you.   At 42Floors, our job is fixing commercial real estate search.  But maybe the best part is that we offer group workouts everyday.

 

Plan a beach vacation

If you know that the winter always gets to you, plan a vacation from it.  A simple one week vacation to somewhere warm (and more importantly, bright) will often be enough to snap you out of it.  And once you get a little reprieve, you’ll be able to gain some perspective and start on all these other things that will help get you back on track.

 

Beware of fights with family, friends and coworkers

In each of my high school depressive episodes, I fought with lots of people around me.  At the time, I didn’t feel depressed.  Because nothing was ever my fault.  I felt oppressed by all these people who just didn’t get it.  Now, I can see though that all that was really going on is the days were short and I wasn’t getting enough D3. So let this be a little trigger that says if you’re fighting with the people around you and it’s winter time, the entire problem may simply be not enough sunlight.

 

Don’t suffer in isolation 

My therapy is blogging.  I’ve learned to share my thoughts openly and it has released tremendous pressure.  It’s not for everyone.  I can tell you now that writing this post wasn’t easy.  For most, simply talking to a friend will help.  But here’s the real trick.  If you’re the friend of someone that you can see is suffering–you have to be the one that approaches them.  Go for it.  It will be a little awkward, but I promise they’ll appreciate it.

 

By the way, now is the time.  Not three months from now when you won’t be motivated enough to do something about it.  Build the habit now.  Winter is coming.

 

 

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About Jason Freedman

Entrepreneur, Co-Founder at 42Floors, Co-Founder at FlightCaster, YC-alum, and a Tuck MBA

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  • David Allison

    Jason – loved this post! Thanks for writing it. I have spoken with many about Seasonal Affective Disorder. My friends up in the Pacific Northwest seem particularly impacted. My wife and I moved down to San Diego about 6 years ago, and the impact is definitely less down here! The startup community in the last 3 years has also burgeoned dramatically.

    I lived in the Bay Area for most of my life, and still love it dearly. But SD keeps me happy and positive year round, and that’s a huge plus!

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  • Chris

    Great post. I’m *not* nit-picking, just making sure I understand: when you wrote “I can’t tell you now that writing this post wasn’t easy.” — that was a typo, right? IOW “can’t tell you” should’ve read “can tell you”.

    • http://humbledmba.com/ Jason Freedman

      Thanks! fixed.

  • dsmitchell1

    Another tip for making sure that exercise remains in your routine: make it part of the way you get to work.

    I live about two miles away from where I work, and I bike to/from there nearly every day. Because it now takes extra thought and effort to do anything else, I’m able to keep biking through the dead of winter.

  • Paul

    Keeping a bright SAD light in the bathroom works. The time it takes to get shower, brush my teeth, get dressed, etc., gives the 20-30 minutes needed. And it works very well.

  • PNWdude

    “how many days in a row did you go without getting at least half-an-hour of direct bright sunlight?”

    Seattle averages 24 overcast days in December, and Portland 25, so probably a lot.

  • Tanner

    I don’t believe suffer from SAD but find myself infinitely more productive and positive with vitamin d3, exercise and a good diet. And who doesn’t like the beach? Good post and good takeaways for all.

  • Sean MacGuire

    Jason — used to live in Montreal, now live in Key West – problem solved!… but… for me large doses of Omega 3 Fish Oils worked really well – I tried this based on hearing the Inuit (Eskimos) got S.A.D. when they switched from their traditional diet to the North American diet… I was taking maybe 5 triple strength gelcaps a day…

  • http://wetherubyists.com/ Justin Baker

    Thank you a million times Jason! I’ve been dreading the impending winter… I’ve noticed a lot of my depressed times have been from Nov-March, leading me to believe I’m dealing with some SAD..This post is exactly what I needed to help me start planning how to deal with it this coming winter.

  • http://www.elite-strategies.com/blog Patrick Coombe

    Thanks so much for this post. This is one of the reasons I moved to Florida, the winters “up north”were just too dark and grey.

  • Timo Ahopelto (Valkee)

    Extremely well-written post on how winter can hit us! And I can assure that here in Finland it can probably be even worse…
    Just wanted to ask if you have came across to Valkee bright light headset: the iPod-like device that channels bright light via ear canals into the brain to treat seasonal affective disorder + what do you think of it. The device builds on the discovery of the brain being sensitive to light via the same family of photoreceptors we have in our eyes. More info http://www.valkee.com
    (Disclaimer: I am an early investor and board member at Valkee.)

    • http://humbledmba.com/ Jason Freedman

      I’ll give it a try!

  • http://bahnana.blogspot.com/ Liana Lütz

    I have the opposite problem: I feel totally miserable during the summer. It makes me moody, angry, unmotivated, and depressed… My blood pressure drops and I feel that I need to lower all my body functions to avoid overheating. Not to mention the sunshine blinding me. Now, while most people are complaining about the rainy weather of Seattle, I am celebrating the colder days as I can finally walk and move around without all that discomfort. I love the Winter! I feel free and happy. :)

    • Berg

      Even though SAD is mostly known due to “winter blues”, it has nothing to do with winter, as it is named, Seasonal, people react differently to seasons, I start getting depressed in the fall, and it gets to me in the winter, at first I thought it’s because of lights, but adding lots of lightning never helped, and in your case, summer is all about Sun, vitamin D and brightness/fun, but still, it affects your mood same way I do to winter.. wonder what could be the key …

      • http://bahnana.blogspot.com/ Liana Lütz

        My case is known as “reverse SAD” or “summer SAD”. It affects less than 1% of the population.

        • Berg

          Yeah It’s def. less common, I had a some friends explain to me that they hate summer and it made them depressed, makes me really wonder how SAD works..

          by the way, I can relate to your feeling when winter comes, I always feel a bit satisfied when it starts raining and the clouds become grey, the sound of the rain and all that atmosphere, makes me really satisfied (for a couple of days before depression starts kicking in lol), stay strong ! :)

  • Sari Erpo

    Super blog- thanks for sharing it. I must say it made me laugh, when you were describing the winter weather conditions in CA – but not underestimating the consequences. We are professionals in Scandinavia with Polar night problems, greetings from Helsinki Finland. Here days last for less than 6 hours during the winter time and it’s a national hobby to overuse Omega oils, to contact personal trainers and to shop extra bright light sources to avoid this pitch dark period. We even have special words to describe this period. I noticed that TImo from Valkee has also posted here, and that is one of the great new innovations in this field. Wishing you brighter and lighter days :)

    • http://humbledmba.com/ Jason Freedman

      I used to live in Stockholm! So hej-do!

      Those are long winters…

  • Karl Grubermeister

    You might try using the “f.lux” or “redshift” programs to vary the color spectrum of any screens, tablets, or phones you use.

    • http://humbledmba.com/ Jason Freedman

      always.

  • Marianne Navada

    Thanks for sharing this. I moved from NYC to Southern CA and that seems to be very helpful :)

  • Gorka

    Awesome. Thanks Jason, I’m actually looking into this

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  • Nik

    This is an interesting infographic on SAD: http://www.firstchoice.co.uk/blog/assets/out-like-a-light.html

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  • Kasey Russell

    Sorry I just saw this, but thanks for calling attention to this important issue. I recently co-founded a startup to make a device called SunSprite to monitor light exposure to help with SAD (among other things). We haven’t yet released much info, but you can sign up at http://sunsprite.com to get more info soon.

  • McKenna

    I’m so glad I’m not the only one to be suffering from this!

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