SAD or Just Sad?
Winter brings this kind of beauty, along with the Holidays and wintertime sports. But it also means lots of gray days and shortened daylight hours. For some of us, this decreased amount of sunlight can mean that we don’t feel as good as we do in the in the warmer months, when the days are longer.
I grew up in the Midwest, so I am used to these gray, short days. I am quite happy to curl up with a book and a cup of tea after all the shoveling is done! I like to think that the lack of sunlight doesn’t bother me too much. But what can you do if you routinely get depressed in the fall and winter? Read on—there is hope!
Do you have symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?
I have a friend who experiences a significant slump in the winter. She dreads the coming of winter because she knows that she loses interest in things that she normally loves to do, and she alternates between insomnia and sleeping too much. She also experiences cravings and weight gain. She recognizes that she suffers from SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is characterized by the following:
- Afternoon slumps with decreased energy and concentration
- Carbohydrate cravings
- Decreased interest in work and other activities
- Depression that starts in the fall or winter
- Increased appetite with weight gain
- Increased sleep and excessive daytime sleepiness
- Lack of energy
- Slow, sluggish, lethargic movement
- Social withdrawal
- Increased irritability
SAD occurs more frequently in women, and it is most often seen in those who live in more northern latitudes.
HELP! I think I have SAD. What can I do?
GOOD NEWS! There are things that you can do to help yourself feel better.
First, it is always best to consult your physician if you are feeling depressed. Your doctor is most qualified to make a diagnosis and to discuss prescription medication with you, if it is needed.
Take your vitamins, especially Vitamin D. Most of us are vitamin D deficient. The best way to find out just how deficient you are is to get a blood test. Then you and your doctor can best decide how much vitamin D to take. We sell an excellent vitamin D supplement in two strengths: 1000 IU and 5000 IU. For most of us, the 1000 IU strength is sufficient, taking 1-2 daily. Your physician can tell you if you need to take the higher, 5000 IU strength. Vitamin D is inexpensive, and it is essential for our mental health. Fish oil is also essential for brain health. Take 1-2 of our Omega-3 fish oil capsules daily.
Exercise! Take a walk (but be careful if it is icy outside). Do stretches, play games on your Wii, ask for a gym membership for Christmas and use it. Eric at Snap Fitness will be happy to show you what is available at his gym, located at 7266 Fishers Crossing Drive. You will see the benefits of exercise almost immediately. Exercise releases a chemical called endorphins, which will make you feel calmer, more relaxed, and more alert. You will also sleep better at night if you exercise regularly.
Sunlight has been used for years for healing purposes since the time of the Ancient Greeks, when Hippocrates (the father of modern medicine) prescribed sunlight as therapy for multiple illnesses. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, bright light was considered to be the most curative prescription for some mood disorders. Before World War II, hospitals were built with a sunroom, know as a Solarium, where patients could recuperate in the sunlight.
Since the 1980’s light therapy has been widely recognized by the medical community as an effective treatment for SAD.
Light therapy is also used to treat insomnia and jet lag. It tends to work faster than antidepressants, beginning to alleviate symptoms of depression in approximately 2-14 days. Unlike antidepressant medicines, which can cause multiple side effects, light therapy is extremely well-tolerated.
Light is thought to act to re-adjust the body’s internal clock (Circadian Rhythm). It is also thought to trigger production of serotonin, which is a chemical in the brain. Lack of serotonin is thought to be responsible for some forms of depression. Light also regulates production of melatonin, the hormone that makes us sleepy.
It is best not to use light therapy after 8 pm, as it can interfere with sleep. Patients with eye problems or who take photosensitizing medicines (medicines that make you get burned or get a rash when exposed to sunlight) like antibiotics, should consult their physician before using light therapy.
Patients who are just starting light therapy may need to adjust the duration of exposure. Most light therapy boxes come with instructions as to length of time to expose yourself to the light.
Two light boxes that we suggest are available at Amazon.com are the Daylight Sky and the Verilux Happy Light 6000. Others are available from Amazon as well.
Do you suffer from SAD? Join the conversation and tell others what has helped you!