It’s January. The holidays are over and if you’re living in the northern section of the world it’s cold, gray, and pretty darn gloomy. Can this make you sad? You bet it can. Literally, S.A.D.
Seasonal affective disorder (also called SAD) is a type of depression that strikes during the winter months, but it can begin in early fall, too, because you know what’s coming.
According to WebMD, symptoms include:
• Feeling sad, grumpy, moody, or anxious
• Eating more and craving carbohydrates, such as bread and pasta
• Gaining weight
• Sleeping more and feeling drowsy during the daytime
• Having difficulty concentrating
• In severe cases, thoughts of suicide
People often think it’s just normal to feel down and blue in the winter, but if you’ve been depressed for weeks and months, the chemicals in your body are trying to tell you something.
Circadian rhythm, also called your biological clock, can be disrupted when the days become shorter and you’re not getting as much light.
Serotonin levels, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, may drop due to lack of sunlight and cause depression.
Levels of melatonin, a natural hormone which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood, can become imbalanced and trigger insomnia.
So, how can you get through the winter if you suffer from SAD?
Try these methods first:
Let the sunshine in ... or, at least, the daylight. Open your blinds or drapes, sit close to the window at home or work.
No windows in your office?
Expose yourself. Taking a walk in the morning or at lunch time can do a world of good for combating the gloom. Even on cold and cloudy days, outdoor light can help boost your vitamin D levels, which if too low can cause depression.
No time to get outside?
Work it out with a workout. As usual, exercise can help relieve stress, anxiety, and mood swings. Join a gym or buy some exercise DVDs. Get those chemicals and hormones moving up and into the brain.
Don’t feel like it?
Eat your fish. Salmon, mackerel and herring are packed with omega-3 fatty acids and can boost your mood as well as your overall health.
Don’t like fish?
Go the natural route. Many people with SAD rely on supplements such as St. John’s Wort, SAMe, melatonin, and fish oil, but always check with your doctor if you are currently on any kind of prescription drugs. For example: St. John's Wort will cancel out the effectiveness of anti-depressants drugs.
Don't believe in holistic remedies?
Let there be light. Doctors often recommend light therapy to diminish symptoms of SAD with either bright light or dawn simulation treatment. Lite boxes can be purchased for home use and some areas have light treatment centers.
Can’t afford a Lite box?
Check with your doctor. Insurance will often pay for light therapy if you’ve been diagnosed with SAD.
Seasonal affective disorder is real and more people suffer with it than are often reported, so don’t give up. If you dread the winter doldrums year after year, fight back, there’s help out there for you.
Sources and further reading:
Mayo Clinic – Health – Definition – Seasonal Affective Disorder. Web. 11, January, 2012
Web MD – Depression - Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) - Topic Overview. 11, January, 2012
Columbia University Medical Center – Columbia Psychiatry - Center for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms. Web. 11, January, 2012 http://columbiapsychiatry.org/clinicalservices/light-treatment-center
Reviewed January 11, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith