Sometimes you have those mornings where you wake up and you feel like you can take on the world. You exercise, meditate, maintain a good balanced breakfast and get to work and the kids off to school with plenty of time. In short, you got this. But there are those other mornings. You know where you hit the snooze button for the third time, have a doughnut or two, yell at the dog for being in the way, and sit in traffic. Hopefully you have more of the first but if you’re like many people suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, SAD, you might feel like all your days are the second kind.
The Mayo Clinic explains that “Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that's related to changes in seasons. SAD begins and ends at about the same time every year. If you're like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Less often, SAD causes depression in the spring or early summer.” Symptoms related to SAD include: Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day, losing interest in activities you once enjoyed, having low energy, having problems sleeping, experiencing changes in your appetite or weight, feeling sluggish or agitated, having difficulty concentrating, feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty, and in severe cases, having thoughts of death. Symptoms more specific to winter include oversleeping, weight gain, and craving more carbs. As you can see, it’s a dreary list that no one would want. So what causes SAD and what can you do to combat it?
Strange as it sounds, there is no confirmed or known cause for SAD. One of the more popular theories is that the reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body's internal clock and lead to feelings of depression. Another contributing factor can be that a drop in serotonin, a brain chemical that affects mood, might play a role in SAD. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression. Lastly, the change in season can disrupt the balance of the body's level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood. Thankfully, SAD can be treated. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) explains that there are four major categories to treat SAD. The first is medication. As with all medication, make sure your doctor knows about all medications you are taking to avoid complications of any sort. The second treatment is light therapy. The NIMH explains that “The Light therapy has been a mainstay of treatment for SAD since the 1980s. The idea behind light therapy is to replace the diminished sunshine of the fall and winter months using daily exposure to bright, artificial light. Symptoms of SAD may be relieved by sitting in front of a light box first thing in the morning, on a daily basis from the early fall until spring. Most typically, light boxes filter out the ultraviolet rays and require 20-60 minutes of exposure to 10,000 lux of cool-white fluorescent light, an amount that is about 20 times greater than ordinary indoor lighting.” The third treatment category is psychotherapy. It’s the back to basics approach to help replace negative thoughts with more positive ones often using cognitive behavior therapy methods. Finally, the fourth category is a vitamin D supplement. The NIMH explains that currently this is not regarded as an effective stand alone treatment method though.
In summary, if you are feeling any of those nasty symptoms above, consult with your primary care physician and see if you may be affected by SAD. There are treatment plans available. If I can make a suggestion too; try to take some time for yourself and head to Florida or somewhere else warm for a few days to recharge. Remember your self-care regimen. You are worth it.