Tips to Help You Cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder

by Neseret on November 3, 2011

San Pablo Bay SunsetA lot of people feel mildly “depressed” during the winter months. This is known as the “winter blues”, however some people have more severe bouts of depression that interferes with their overall functioning. Seasonal Affective Disorder(SAD) is a serious mental health condition that requires treatment.

Symptoms of SAD include increased desire to sleep, extremely low energy, depression, reduced concentration, increased appetite and generally being unable to function. Researchers believe that SAD is precipitated by the shorter days in winter.

Research shows light has a biological effect on brain chemicals and hormones.

One theory about the cause of SAD is that people who suffer from SAD have a disturbance in their “biological clock” that regulates hormones for sleep and mood. This clock runs slow in the winter months. Other theories are based on the idea of changes in brain chemicals or neurotransmitters, particularly serotonin and dopamine.

“In Florida, less than 1% of the general population have SAD, while in Alaska as many as 10% of people may suffer from SAD. Researchers estimate that slightly over 17% of people living in northern countries suffer periodic bouts of the ‘winter blues’. ”

Treatments options for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Research findings show that many patients with SAD improve with exposure to artificial light or light therapy. Also known as phototherapy. “As little as sitting 30 minutes per day of sitting under a lightbox results in significant improvement in 60 -80% of SAD clients.” Side effects from light therapy are mild, typically. Some people might experience nausea, headaches and eye strain.

You can purchase your own light box. A flourescent light box is the recommended light therapy treatment. The recommended dose of light is 10, 000 lux. Lux is a measurement of light intensity. Indoor light is typically between 200 – 400 lux, a cloudy day is about 3500 lux, and a sunny day is about 50,000 lux.

In severe cases of SAD a physician may prescribe an antidepressant. The best antidepressant treatment for SAD seem to be from SSRIs (Selective Serotonin reuptake inhibitors) such as fluoxetine (Prozac), citalopram (Celexa), and paroxetine (Paxil).

Helpful Tips to help you cope with SAD

Pay extra attention to your nutrition

People who suffer from sad often report craving sweets and fatty foods in the winter time. Managing your nutrition in this sense begins by paying attention to the change in your appetite and your food cravings in the winter time.

“According to Angela Smyth, in SAD the three chemical messengers produced from amino acids are found in varying quantities in the food we eat. Protein rich food (meat, fish, and dairy products) allow more of the activities neurotransmitters to flood the brain, while starchy and sweet foods (potatoes and cakes) stimulate the calming and sedating neurotransmitters such as serotonin.”

As much as these foods feel comforting in the winter time people often end up gaining a lot of weight and feeling discouraged. Your best bet here is to try to eat as much fruits and vegetables as you can and generally watch your diet.

Vitamin D supplment

Studies show many health benefits of vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with some of the symptoms of SAD such as lethargy and depression. Our bodies can produce vitamin D if we have enough exposure to sunlight. However the in the winter months we often do not get enough sunlight for our body to produce adequate amount of vitamin D. Talk to your health care provider about vitamin D Supplementation.

Get as much light as possible

Avoid being couped up inside in the winter time and try to get as much natural light as possible. Rearrange your work space and home space to allow exposure to natural light. Set up bright lights at home or at work where you spend a lot of time. Even short, frequent standing or sitting by a window where you feel natural sunlight can be greatly beneficial.

Exercise

Studies show daily exercise, ideally aerobics and strength training combined reduce mild winter depressive symptoms. If you are not able to exercise outdoors in the winter time because of extreme weather conditions then exercise indoors.

Sleep

Keep a regular sleep/wake schedule. “People with SAD who get up every morning and go to sleep at the same time report being more alert and less fatigued than when they vary their schedules.” Arrange family outings during the day and in early evenings in winter. Avoid staying up too late as this will disrupt your sleep schedule.

Keep a Journal

Many people find it helpful to keep track of their energy level, mood, appetite, weight, sleep schedule and daily activities. Journals can help you detect patterns in any of those areas which will assist you in making adjustments to better your overall health.

Education

Educating yourself, your family, friends and coworkers regarding the effects of SAD will help you gain their understanding and support. If you found this article helpful I encourage you to share this article on Facebook or Twitter.

If you have any questions or comments about SAD please leave me a note below. Also please share your experience with SAD and what has helped you here as this will promote understanding, validation and support for those who are suffering.

Blessings and Peace,

Neseret

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Grant November 5, 2011 at 4:26 pm

True to life. This affects so many people, and thank you for addressing this. The pointers are very proactive and hopefully will assist some people to deal with this issue better this year. Thanks!

Reply

Neseret December 3, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Hi Grant,

You’re welcome! Yes, my hope is this information will be helpful for those people who are suffering from SAD to cope better. Some people may not be aware they’re experiencing SAD. Others may not be incorporating all of these steps. I believe it is important to try different things to figure out what works for each person.

Blessings and Peace,

Neseret

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