Cold, cloudy, rainy weather or, where I live, dense grey blankets of fog day after day!
The colder months can cause many of us to have low energy, lack motivation, seek comfort of the indoors, eat more carbs and feel down, “winter blues.” However, there is a condition that is beyond having the “winter blues” called Seasonal Affective Disorder(SAD).
"Many people feel sluggish and down because of the weather, but Seasonal Affective Disorder is not the same as the 'winter blues,'" said Blake Casher, DO, psychiatrist and medical director of the geropsychiatric program at McLaren Greater Lansing. "The depression associated with SAD is often severe enough to require treatment."
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a real condition that affects many people. SAD is a biological and psychological condition caused by lack of sunlight, shorten days, and gloomy weather. The reduced light causes a lower production of “feel good” hormones in the brain, less serotonin, dopamine and circadian rhythms are thrown off. It usually occurs during the winter months and subsides in the spring, although, fewer, there are some occurrences during other seasonal periods. It’s more prevalent the further away from the equator. More women than men are affected, however men are not immune to it. Telling someone with SAD to “Snap out of it” or “Be happy” doesn’t help. They can’t just turn it off. Symptoms include excessive sleeping, avoidance of others, low self esteem, negative thinking, sadness. Women are diagnosed more with Seasonal Affective Disorder, 4 times as often as men. It is often seen in young adults, but can occur at any age.
HELPFUL WAYS TO MANAGE SEASONAL DEPRESSION
Light Therapy Many have found relief from using special lights. Phototherapy treatment does require a one time purchase of special lights and having exposure to the light daily, usually 15 minutes to an hour.
Go Outside SAD is about the amount of light we take in daily. Even though it’s cold and cloudy, there are sun rays peaking through that are beneficial.Try to get outside for 10 - 20 minutes to get the benefits of natural light. Mornings are the best time for SAD; however any time will help.
Exercise Better yet, exercise outside - double the benefit! This does not have to be an hour long exhaustive workout. Bundle up and go for a walk or bike ride. Exercise releases endorphins which are natural “feel good” hormones.
Therapy Speaking to a therapist can help you manage SAD. As with clinical depression, a therapist will listen to what you’re dealing with, design a individualized treatment plan and provide tools to help reduce the negative effects of SAD.
Socialize The last thing you may want to do is be around people. However, adding a social activity or two around positive people or experiences during your week can help lift your mood. Meet with a friend for coffee, attend an event, join a small group. Check your local meetup.com to find an interest group that you may like.
Medication Some may need to go on medication or other supplements. See a doctor that has knowledge of SAD that will work with you to find the best medication/supplements to meet your needs.
Vitamin D Research has shown boosting our intake of Vitamin D has been helpful. Exposure to sunlight causes our body to produce Vitamin D. Naturally, lack of sunlight reduces our body’s ability to produce it. Low levels of vitamin D have been linked with depression.
Eat wisely A unique symptom of SAD is you crave carbohydrates, sweets, starchy foods. Instead, eat complex carbs that will still satisfy the craving. Foods like beans, high fiber grains and brown rice. Add foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids which have been shown to boost serotonin (the chemical in the brain that regulates moods).