Seasonal Affective Disorder, commonly known as the Winter Blues, is a real condition that affects the lives of those who suffer from it in very profound ways.
Late in the year when fall gives way to winter, colder weather and shorter days kick this condition into overdrive for those who are afflicted. Related directly to dropping vitamin D levels and light deprivation, Seasonal Affective Disorder can wreak havoc in cold, northern climates where the cloudy season drags on and on.
While not conclusive, some studies suggest that Seasonal Affective Disorder may also have a genetic link. It’s not at all unusual for whole families to suffer from this condition.
Despite increasing research, Seasonal Affective Disorder is still widely misunderstood. The one thing scientists do know is that SAD pops up when the winter months create a shortage of sunlight. As it stands now, the condition affects significant numbers of people.
Knowing all of that, the question becomes how you can avoid it this winter.
Here’s your complete guide:
The Face of Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a kind depression associated with winter commonly called Winter Blues. It’s a mood change disorder that affects a large number of people, and anybody can be a victim of it. The US National Library of Medicine notes that the disorder can cause mood swings, mild depression, and low energy.
Additional symptoms include the following:
- Sleeping more or less than usual
- Losing interest in activities and social situations
- A dramatic decrease in energy levels, accompanied by increased feelings of fatigue
- Appetite irregularities, generally in the form of consuming more sweets and starchy foods, which when coupled with lower activity levels, can result in unwanted weight gain
- Inability to concentrate
- Feelings of irritability and aggravation or heightened anxiety
- Depression, feelings of guilt, feelings of hopelessness
People affected by SAD tend to sleep more and have little energy to work. Some people experience food craving for sweets and starchy items and feel depressed. At times, the symptoms can be severe, but they usually clear up. If you are suffering from symptoms like these during the winter, you’ve probably got a mild to moderate case of SAD.
Don’t worry, though – this is a treatable condition.
One of the best treatments to overcome SAD is phototherapy or the use of a SAD light. These lights mimic the natural light of the sun and are designed for use indoors. They boost the body’s production of Vitamin D and help mitigate the symptoms of this disorder.
Phototherapy has proven to be one of the most useful tools to beat the Winter Blues and get back to feeling like yourself. Using the light is simple: just sit in front of the light while you read or watch television for about 30 minutes each day. Before you know it, you’ll feel happier and more refreshed.
Remember that everyone is different, and the list above doesn’t encompass all of the possible symptoms of SAD. Everyone experiences this disorder in their own way. If you live in an area where sunlight is prevalent all winter long, you’re less likely to experience SAD. If you’re in a cold northern climate, though, there’s a good chance this disorder will affect you. Being aware of that is the first step to treating it.
3 Ways to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder This Winter
Do you feel depressed and low-energy during winter’s dark days? You’re most likely suffering from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), or a slightly less severe condition known as seasonal depression.
Either way, you can find relief with these three steps:
1. Let There be Light
Light treatments for SAD are widely available and have shown significant degrees of success in countering the effects of this disorder. Since SAD comes from light deprivation, light therapy is the obvious way to resolve the condition.
Head to any Midwestern Target during the cold winter months, and you’ll find a whole host of light devices, including lamps, light boxes, light visors, and more. These devices provide simulated sunlight that can stop or reduce the symptoms of SAD.
Treatments typically last about 30 minutes per day and can be done in the comfort of your own home. If the light therapy helps, there’s nothing wrong with continuing to use said therapy until the winter is over. Keep in mind, though, that there are right and wrong ways to do light therapy. While SAD-specific light boxes can boost your body’s vitamin D production, they don’t emit the same damaging UV rays as, say, a tanning bed. Because of this, you want to avoid seeking light therapy in a tanning bed. If there are occasional sunny days where you can get outside, this can also be an effective form of light therapy. Just be sure to wear sunscreen!
Want to take this treatment a step further? Use full-spectrum light bulbs in your home and at work, wherever possible, and add a “happy light” to your desk or office. Once you’ve installed the light, you can read or make phone calls or do whatever you wish near the lightbox.
If you’re thinking that buying SAD lights will burn a hole in your pocket, think again. You can find SAD lamps for $50 or less. A quick spin around Amazon will reveal several excellent options. Once you find a light and start using it, you’re sure to see results quickly and easily. Some patients see results in just two days and start feeling fresh and confident again!
2. Stay Active
Another effective method in managing SAD is to increase your daily activities and get enough exercise. It’s much harder to remain depressed when you’re in the constant company of good friends and family and involved in social activities.
Even a little physical exertion on a regular basis can work wonders. Consistent exercise has been proven to be a handy tool in counteracting depression, and very efficient at alleviating life’s daily stress.
You may think winter is for hibernating, but if you do, hibernate actively! Maybe you choose to do Zumba at home by a sunny window and alternate with swimming at an indoor pool that’s got lots of light coming through the windows. No matter what you choose to do, just stay active. It’s one of the best and most effective ways to beat the winter blues.
Struggling to stay active during the winter months? Ask yourself these questions:
- Are you doing the kind of exercise you love? If you are, you’re motivated to exercise more.
- Do you like to work out alone or in a group?
- Do you need others to push you along or sweat with you?
- Do you need a firmly scheduled class? If so, join one! There are plenty of great group classes at most fitness clubs and gyms, so take full advantage of them!
No matter how busy your schedule is, there’s always time for a quick walk at lunch, a jog after work, or a barre class on the weekends. When you commit to staying active this winter, your health (and happiness) will increase exponentially.
Want a bonus tip? Keep up on your chiropractic adjustments as you pave this path to newfound activity. Keeping your neck, back, and spine in alignment can go a long way toward keeping you active and combating depression.
3. Supplement With Vitamin D-3
If you can’t get enough sunlight, and even if you can, take D-3 in a form that is easy for your body to utilize and absorb. Head to your local health food store to pick up Vitamin D-3 capsules and add them to your daily routine. Take this one step further by also adding lots of D-3 rich foods to your diet, including salmon, small, oily fish like sardines and herring, egg yolks, mushrooms, and more.
Avoid SAD Prescriptions in Favor of Natural Remedies
Recently, it’s become common for doctors to prescribe medication like antidepressants and antianxiety medicines for people suffering from SAD. Although medication is the best in severe cases, most people can treat moderate, seasonal cases of the disorder with the tactics mentioned above.
SAD no More!
As always, consult your physician for appropriate medical advice if you feel that you are suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder. And don’t be afraid to do a little of your own research! There is a ton of credible information available, from a variety of sources, and educating yourself is a great way to take control of your own health.
In the meantime, supplement your diet, stay active, and see your chiropractor on a regular basis. Bye-bye, SAD!
Dr Francis Murphy is a National Board Certified Doctor of Chiropractic and a Longtime resident of Northeast Arkansas. He graduated from Logan College of Chiropractic in 1995 and moved back to Jonesboro to serve the community in both his clinic and by becoming a community activist. He is deeply involved in the Jonesboro Lions Club and with the Jonesboro Chamber of Commerce Community Outreach Program.