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This Is One of the Best Ways to Treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (It’s Free!)

Feeling blue? Up to a whopping 20 percent of us suffer from SAD—seasonal affective disorder—each year when the winter comes around. Now, a new study has revealed how we can treat it.

As the season shifts to a cold, murky winter, you may find that your mood mirrors the world around you. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depressive disorder triggered by the changing of the seasons. It typically kicks in toward the end of fall and can last for months at a time. The symptoms manifest as low moods, tiredness, and a difficulty concentrating, as well as these additional signs of SAD. Now, researchers in Vermont think they may have found the most effective solution to this condition yet, and it doesn’t cost a thing.

Between 4 and 6 percent of the population battles with SAD, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians—that’s more than 14 million Americans. Another 10 to 20 percent of people have a mild form of SAD. The most common SAD treatment is light box therapy. The strong light produces by the box mimics natural sunlight, increasing a person’s serotonin levels and boosting their well-being. Yet it comes with downsides: The therapy doesn’t always work, a box can be costly, and you may have to sit in front of it for long periods of time.

According to a study by the University of Vermont, there may be a more effective way to combat the onset of SAD: talking through it. The researchers recruited 177 participants, all of whom were suffering from the disorder. Over the course of six weeks, each individual was treated using either light therapy or a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) designed to challenge and change their negative thoughts about winter darkness. This is how CBT works to change your behavior.

The researchers checked back in with the participants two winters after the initial treatment. Nearly half of people who tried the light box therapy reported a recurrence of their depression, while only 27 percent of the people who had CBT suffered a recurrence. The results seem to suggest that using CBT and talking about the issue may be a more effective long-term strategy than using a gadget to simulate daylight.

“The degree of improvement was substantial,” writes Kelly Rohan, a psychology professor at the University of Vermont and the lead author on the study. While both treatments seemed to help considerably, CBT had longer lasting benefits, say the researchers.

The core idea of CBT is that a person can change the way they feel and act by shifting the way in which they perceive a situation. The great thing about this type of therapy is that if you sign up with a professional, it may be covered by your insurance. You can also find ways to direct your own CBT through free online resources, like Living Life to the Full, or by using an app like Pacifica. For more ways to ward off seasonal depression, check out these 15 other solutions to beat SAD.

BY CHARLOTTE GRAINGER
source: www.rd.com
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7 Ways to Flip Your Negative Mindset This Fall and Winter

There’s something about the colder weather that’s just so… blah. Some of us turn into big ogres starting in November, which only gets worse once the cheerfulness of the holiday season wears off in January.

Ugh, winter. Am I right?

It feels like there’s so much to be miserable about. And it’s easy to fall into that trap. This is the season when bad habits tend to flourish, with too many of us just giving in and waiting it out until spring comes to give us a bit of a mood boost.

This year, don’t be one of those people. Making a conscious effort to change your attitude and break your negative mindset is so worth it.

Here are some tips on how to start.

1. Make sure you’re getting enough of that sunshine vitamin.

Anyone who lives in a location with cold winters likely already knows about seasonal affective disorder (SAD). If you suspect you could be suffering from it, it would be best to talk to your doctor. He or she may give you a recommended dosage of vitamin D to take daily.

According to some studies, supplementing with vitamin D is an easy and cost-effective solution to treating some individuals’ depression and other mental issues. Getting outside during the daytime or investing in a therapeutic light box are also ideal ways to naturally boost vitamin D levels.

2. Stay warm by exercising and moving around regularly throughout the day.

Lots of people are cold and cranky because they don’t move around much in winter, and they don’t move around much in winter because they’re cold and cranky. It’s an endless cycle that can only be broken with—you guessed it—body movement.

Both your cold body and cranky mind will benefit from a regular exercise regime in the winter. Exercise increases your body temperature while studies have proven that it also decreases anxiety/depression and boosts mood.

3. Lay off the caffeine.

It might be tempting to down 14 cups of coffee a day to ward off winter’s chill, but caffeine is a serotonin killer. According to WebMD, research suggests that a serotonin imbalance can negatively affect people’s moods—sometimes enough to lead to depression.

You don’t have to give up coffee or tea altogether, but limiting your consumption to just 1 or 2 cups in the morning might be helpful. Try caffeine-free herbal teas, decaf coffee or a healthy hot chocolate (hot water mixed with pure cocoa) to warm you up instead!

winter

4. Eat healthy foods that boost serotonin.

Taking care of your diet is another way to naturally boost your serotonin levels and put you in a better mood. Swap the sugary stuff and refined carbs instead for sources of lean protein and healthy fats (with plenty of veggies and fruits too, of course).

Foods high in omega-3s are ideal. Choosing types of fish that come packed with omega-3s like wild salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines and anchovies will also give you a nice helping of protein at the same time.

5. Avoid drudgery at work and at home.

Winter is pretty much the season of drudgery. Wake up, go to work, come home, lounge around for a bit, go to bed and do it all over again. No wonder so many people are in a bad mood!

Aim to do anything and everything you can to shake your routine up a bit with things you enjoy and new ways to challenge yourself. Plan something fun at work with your coworkers, get back in touch with an old hobby, take on a new project at home or try getting involved in a new winter sport. Your mind needs it.

6. Talk back to your negative voice.

Too many people don’t even realize that they’re just victims of their own negative thoughts.  Telling yourself how much you hate how dark it is, how terrible it is to be cold all the time or how hopeless everything seems this time of year may really just be a bad habit you’ve unconsciously conditioned yourself into doing over the years.

Start becoming more aware of your negative thinking and use that same voice to challenge it. Sure, it’s dark during the colder months, but is that really a valid reason to be miserable? It might be cold, but you’re the only one who’s preventing yourself from doing something to warm you up.

This type of self-talk isn’t easy for stubborn folks because it requires quite a bit of open-mindedness and awareness, but with enough practice, this alone has the power to change your entire mindset.

7. Spending less time with electronics and more time socializing with friends and family.

You know what’s super duper tempting? Burying your head in your laptop / tablet / smartphone until spring. Or having a Netflix marathon. Whatever offers the best distraction from the cold and darkness the most.

Spending too much time in front of electronics pulls you away from your most important relationships and keeps your mind fixed on cheap sources of stimulation that don’t benefit you in the long-run. They can actually make you more anxious or depressed, and the light from your devices can really mess with your sleep cycle.

Limit screen time for the whole family and pull out a board game. Make a coffee date with someone. Go for a walk with your partner or spouse and see how many houses you can count that have really great Christmas light displays.

Whatever you do, don’t let your bad mindset get the best of you this season. You’re so much stronger than that!

By: Elise Moreau    November 19, 2015
 


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What is SAD?

What is Seasonal Depression?
(Also Called ‘SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)’, ‘Seasonal Depression’)

Seasonal depression, often called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a depression that occurs each year at the same time, usually starting in fall, worsening in winter, and ending in spring. It is more than just “the winter blues” or “cabin fever.” A rare form of SAD, known as “summer depression,” begins in late spring or early summer and ends in fall.

What are the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder?
People who suffer from SAD have many of the common signs of depression, including:

  • Sadness
  • Anxiety
  • irritability
  • loss of interest in usual activities
  • withdrawal from social activities
  • inability to concentrate
  • extreme fatigue and lack of energy
  • a “leaden” sensation in the limbs
  • increased need for sleep
  • craving for carbohydrates, and accompanying weight gain.

Symptoms of summer SAD include:

  • weight loss
  • agitation and restlessness
  • trouble sleeping
  • decreased appetite

How common is SAD?
Approximately one half million of the U.S. population suffers from winter SAD, while 10 to 20 percent may suffer from a more mild form of winter blues. Three-quarters of the sufferers are women, and the onset typically is early adulthood. SAD also can occur in children and adolescents. Older adults are less likely to experience SAD.

This illness is more commonly seen in people who live in cloudy regions or at high latitudes (geographic locations farther north or south of the equator). Individuals who relocate to higher latitudes are more prone to SAD.

What causes seasonal affective disorder?
The exact cause of this condition is not known, but evidence to date strongly suggests that—for those with an inherent vulnerability—SAD is triggered by changes in the availability of sunlight. One theory is that with decreased exposure to sunlight, the internal biological clock that regulates mood, sleep, and hormones is shifted. Exposure to light may reset the biological clock.

Another theory is that brain chemicals that transmit information between nerves, called neurotransmitters (for example, serotonin), may be altered in individuals with SAD. It is believed that exposure to light can correct these imbalances.

How can I tell if I have seasonal affective disorder?
It is very important that you do not diagnose yourself. If you have symptoms of depression, see your doctor for a thorough assessment. Sometimes physical problems can cause depression. But other times, symptoms of SAD are part of a more complex psychiatric problem. A mental health professional typically can evaluate your pattern of symptoms and identify whether you have SAD or another type of mood disorder.

How is seasonal affective disorder treated?
Research now shows that phototherapy, also known as bright light therapy, is an effective treatment for SAD. Sometimes antidepressant medicine is used alone or in combination with light therapy. Spending time outdoors during the day can be helpful, as well as maximizing the amount of sunlight you’re exposed to at home and in the office.

winter depression

What is light therapy? Is it safe?
Light therapy, sometimes called phototherapy, is administered by a device that contains white fluorescent light tubes covered with a plastic screen to block ultraviolet rays. The intensity of light emitted (Lux) should be 10,000 Lux. The patient does not need to look directly into the light, but reads or eats while sitting in front of the device at a distance of 2 to 3 feet.

Light therapy is generally safe and well tolerated. However, there are some contraindications (e.g., conditions such as diabetes or retinopathies, certain medications) because of the potential risk of damage to the retina of the eye. Bright light therapy can cause hypomanic or manic symptoms; therefore, individuals with bipolar affective disorder require medical supervision to use light therapy.

Side effects of light therapy include:

  • eye strain
  • headache
  • irritability
  • fatigue
  • insomnia

At what time of the day and for how long should I use light therapy?
The timing of light therapy appears to affect the treatment response. Recent studies suggest that morning light therapy is more effective than evening treatments. Using this treatment too late in the day may produce insomnia. Many health professionals today prefer to treat SAD with 10,000 Lux for 15 to 30 minutes every morning. Patients often see improvement within two to four days, and reach full benefits within two weeks. The symptoms of SAD return quickly after light therapy is stopped, so light treatment should be continued throughout the entire season of low sunlight.

Even though they generate enough light, tanning beds should not be used to treat SAD. The amount of ultraviolet (UV) rays they produce is harmful to the skin and eyes.

Can I prevent the onset of seasonal affective disorder?
If you think you have symptoms of SAD, see your doctor for a thorough examination. Your doctor will want to make sure that these symptoms are not caused by another psychiatric condition or major medical illness.

If you have been diagnosed with SAD, here are some things you can do to help prevent it from coming back:

  • Begin using a light box at the start of the fall season, even before you feel the onset of winter SAD.
  • Try to spend some amount of time outside every day, even when it’s very cloudy. The effects of daylight are still beneficial.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet and include sufficient amounts of vitamins and minerals as recommended by the FDA. This will help you have more energy even though your body is craving starchy and sweet foods.
  • Try exercising for 30 minutes a day, three times a week.
  • Stay involved with your social circle and regular activities. This can be a tremendous means of support during winter months.
  • Consider consulting a mental health professional trained in cognitive behavior therapy, which has been demonstrated as an effective treatment for SAD.
  • Talk to your doctor about antidepressant medication if your symptoms are severe or persist despite interventions such as bright light therapy.

If your symptoms become severe and you or someone you know are having thoughts of suicide, call your doctor right away or go to the nearest emergency room.

References
American Psychiatric Association. Seasonal Affective Disorder Accessed 11/11/2013.
American Academy of Family Physicians. Seasonal Affective Disorder Accessed 11/11/2013.
National Institute of Mental Health. Properly Timed Light, Melatonin Lift Winter Depression by Syncing Rhythms Accessed 11/12/2013.


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4 Gentle Ways to Manage Seasonal Depression

MeetMindful   January 5, 2015

Where have you been all winter?

Do you find yourself slinking away from that familiar face across the aisle in the grocery store? Do you find yourself ducking into the chips and pop section for some snacks? Do you notice yourself becoming lethargic and losing pleasure in activities you are normally jazzed to do? Feeling like your mood is starting to dip?

You may be starting to feel the beginning effects of seasonal affective disorder or SAD. This is a common syndrome, especially for cities that tend to be rainy or grey for the majority of the wintertime.

Here are four ways you can fight back against the winter blues:

Don’t believe what you think you are feeling.

Unlike much of the time when we listen to our bodies or emotions to tune into our needs, when season depression hits, you need to do the opposite. Do not act on how you feel. It’s likely you feel like staying home, getting into bed and pulling the covers up over your head. And if you listen to this feeling, unfortunately, things tend to spiral downwards and get worse.

The antidote:

Try to get out of the house several days a week, even if it is for a small walk or errand. It may not make you feel better immediately, but over time this tends to spiral your mood back upwards.

Make plans with people… and keep them.

One of the unfortunate aspects of seasonal depression is the way in which people tend to isolate themselves. We always want to put our best foot forward and be engaged, mindful and positive when we are around other people. Unfortunately, if we don’t feel this way we keep ourselves separate for fear of being a burden or feeling like a negative force. The problem is, once we start to avoid social situations, it gets easier and easier to sink into a cycle of avoidance. The cycle becomes harder to break over time as we feel increasingly depressed and experience a sense of relief at not having to socialize.

The antidote:

Connect with people anyway, even if it feels awkward at first. The people in your life may surprise you by welcoming a different aspect of your experience and being open to supporting you. You may even find that other people open up to you about their struggles and you create a deeper sense of intimacy in your relationships.

winter depression

Create daily structure.

If you are someone who already does this, keep doing it! If not, you may want to get help with this part. It is very easy for the hours and days to slip by unnoticed as we fall further into a depression and suddenly life can lose all sense of routine and normalcy, which tends to make people who are depressed feel even more isolated and out of sync with others.

The antidote:

Eat and sleep in regular intervals. Set a standard bedtime and waketime and stick to it for a week or so until it becomes more regular and easy to do. Eat by the clock and not by your stomach. Most people who are struggling with seasonal depression do not feel hungry at all…or tend to overeat. Even if all you can manage is a piece of fruit or a granola bar, just nourish yourself.

Nurture yourself.

Many people who become seasonally depressed tend to think more negatively, especially towards themselves. You may find yourself focused in a critical way about things that are bad in your life or wrong with you. Or you may be disappointed or angry with yourself about feeling depressed. This tends to make things worse.

The antidote:

Be kind to yourself. This is the most difficult task for many clients who I work with that feel that they don’t deserve kindness or worse, do not know how to be kind to themselves. Just start somewhere. Light a candle and listen to electronic ambient tunes on Songza. Go to a bakery and take in the smell of freshly baked bread. Wear a piece of clothing you feel good in. Take a walk in a park or by water. Whatever brings you a sense of peace, nurture or soothing. We need to start by making ourselves feel better, bit by little bit. This is something to practice when season mood dips occur, but also as a practice for enjoying life in general. Sometimes the most simple things can be the hardest to remember.

Leslie Malchy, MeetMindful.


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This Vitamin Stops People Feeling SAD and Promotes Good Mental Health

Maintaining sufficient levels of vitamin D in the body is not just good for physical health, it can also help protect against depression and promote good mental health, a new study finds.

Researchers looked at over 100 leading articles for a connection between depression, seasonally affected disorder and vitamin D levels (Stewart et al., 2014).

Dr. Alan E. Stewart, who led the study, which is published in the journal Medical Hypotheses, said:

“Seasonal affective disorder is believed to affect up to 10 percent of the population, depending upon geographical location, and is a type of depression related to changes in season.

People with SAD have the same symptoms every year, starting in fall and continuing through the winter months.

sun
The vitamin which helps those
with seasonally affected disorder (SAD)
and is linked to good mental health.

We believe there are several reasons for this, including that vitamin D levels fluctuate in the body seasonally, in direct relation to seasonally available sunlight.

For example, studies show there is a lag of about eight weeks between the peak in intensity of ultraviolet radiation and the onset of SAD, and this correlates with the time it takes for UV radiation to be processed by the body into vitamin D.”

Research has also repeatedly shown a link between low levels of vitamin D and depression.

Professor Michael Kimlin, another of the study’s authors, says that maintaining vitamin D levels is relatively easy:

“What we know now is that there are strong indications that maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D are also important for good mental health.

A few minutes of sunlight exposure each day should be enough for most people to maintain an adequate vitamin D status.”

source: PsyBlog


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Can Winter Really Make You Sick? The Truth About Seasonal Affective Disorder

By Alexandra Sifferlin    Jan. 10, 2014

The cold is bad enough, but winter’s shorter days make the season a downer, to say the least. But how real is seasonal affective disorder (aptly known as SAD)?

SAD is often a catch-all term to describe the winter dumps, but experts say it’s often misused and the condition is actually less common than people think. “There are a lot of myths. SAD is not a myth. It is a mental disorder that is incompletely understood and also something that is complicated by questions about the role of evolutionary biology,” says Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, the president of the American Psychiatric Association.

That diagnosis is different from the lows that many feel during the winter months. In fact, research shows many people overestimate the impact of seasons on their moods in general.

Where is the line between SAD and the simple doldrums? How much winter sadness is the product of a mood-based disorder, and how much is a natural outcome of being cooped up indoors? SAD is considered a subtype of a mood disorder like depression or bipolar disorder, so a very small percentage are actually diagnosed with it specifically. In order to meet the qualifications for a SAD diagnosis, according to the Mayo Clinic, an individual must be show the following:

  • depression and other symptoms for a minimum of two consecutive years during the same season.
  • depression-free periods following episodes of depression
  • unexplained behavior and mood changes.

For most other cases of seasonal mood changes, Lieberman says making some lifestyle changes such as exercising or keeping good sleeping habits can help. “It’s important to realize that just like people on Mondays have physical and emotional symptoms, you deal with it. You don’t take a treatment for Mondays.” It only warrants treatment when it starts to interfere with daily life, he says.

What about the bright light lamps that claim to relieve depression during the darker months? They’re based on the idea that light therapy can boost melatonin levels, and also serotonin in the brain — higher levels of serotonin between nerve connections can have anti-depressive effects. But as appealing as that sounds, Lieberman says there isn’t solid evidence behind it. “Light therapy is not a sham, but the evidence is not that strong,” he says. But since it’s not invasive, it also isn’t harmful — except perhaps to your budget.

So if you’re not feeling your usual cheerful self this winter, see your doctor. If he doesn’t diagnose you with SAD, try adding some physical activity to your day and getting regular sleep. And remember that spring is just a few months away.

source: Time


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15 Natural Options for Depression

Michelle Schoffro Cook         May 10, 2012

Everyone feels down at some point, usually as a reaction to difficult circumstances, but clinical depression goes far beyond that. In such cases a person experiences a prolonged sadness that is out of proportion with the apparent cause. The physical and psychological symptoms affect a person’s capacity to function normally in the world.

Depression is often accompanied by sleep disruption, fatigue, anxiety, mood swings, prolonged lapses of concentration, pain, apathy, decreased sex drive and suicidal thoughts.  Because these symptoms can be attributed to other diseases or conditions and are serious, it is always important to consult a medical doctor for a diagnosis.

Diet: Poor nutrition, in my opinion, is one of the greatest causes of depression, and one of the easiest and most overlooked solutions. My two decades of clinical experience tell me that depression cannot be managed for the long-term without addressing the diet.

Poor diet is frequently linked to depression because food additives, chemicals, alcohol, sugar, and sugar substitutes can have severely negative effects on our mental and physical health.

Eating a healthful diet (not a low carb diet, in this case) helps the body balance hormone levels, including important brain hormones that help us feel good.  For example, complex carbohydrates from vegetables, legumes and whole grains help the brain manufacture serotonin, a “feel good” neurotransmitter that is needed to prevent and treat depression.

Food Sensitivities: It’s also important to address possible food allergens or sensitivities, which can sometimes be tough to pinpoint. The most common ones include: dairy, wheat, gluten, MSG, sugars, artificial sweeteners, and food colors. Removing these foods from the diet in favor of wholesome, nutrient-dense food choices frequently improves mood. Assistance from a qualified natural health practitioner can be helpful.

Blood Sugar Fluctuations: Many of my depressive clients confirm that they are in the habit of skipping meals (like breakfast) or waiting long periods of time between eating. This confirms a suspicion that blood sugar imbalances are a factor in depression. Keep blood sugar levels balanced by eating a healthy snack or meal every two to three hours.

Essential Fats: Essential fatty acids are necessary to treat depression, as they are required to create healthy brain cells and are involved in regulating neurotransmitters—the brain hormones that balance mood including serotonin and oxytocin. Take 3000 mg daily of either fish or flax oils, or 500 mg of DHA or EPA, or a blend of both. Flaxseed oil is also a good source of essential fatty acids. Two tablespoons daily of flax oil can be helpful. You can pour flax oil over baked sweet potatoes or vegetables, or blend some into smoothies.

Digestion: Improving the body’s ability to extract nutrients from food can be helpful in treating depression naturally. Supplementing your diet with a high-quality full-spectrum digestive enzyme formula that includes the amylase, invertase, lactase, maltose, lipase, and protease, enzymes can be beneficial. One to three enzyme capsules or tablets with every meal help your body break down the carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in your food into natural sugars, essential fatty acids, and amino acids needed for optimal healing.

Nutrient Deficiencies: Because so many vitamins and minerals are involved with mood balancing, it is important that you address any possible deficiencies by taking a high-quality multivitamin and mineral supplement with meals.

Mood-Boosting B Vitamins: Additionally, because the B-complex vitamins are so vital for restoring balanced moods, an extra 100 mg B-complex supplement daily is often necessary in people suffering from depression.

Balancing Serotonin: As a precursor to serotonin, 5-HTP helps to restore healthy levels of this much needed brain chemical.  I usually use 50 to 100 mg of 5-HTP at bedtime for two months for people with depression.

Herbal Support: Despite one well-publicized study that demonstrated the ineffectiveness of St. John’s wort against severe depression, many research studies show that it is effective against mild and moderate depression, and it also helps raise serotonin levels in the brain. I recommend 900 to 1200 mg daily.  However, avoid taking St. John’s wort if you are taking pharmaceutical antidepressants, and do not take it within two to three hours of sunlight exposure.

Boosting Oxygen in the Brain: The herb gingko biloba helps bring more oxygen to the brain via the blood stream. Your brain needs oxygen to work properly. A beneficial dose for depression is 60 mg three times daily.

Regulating Brain Biochemistry:  S-Adenosylmethionine (SAMe) occurs naturally in the body and helps regulate certain biochemical reactions, including those linked to mood regulation; however it can be low in people suffering from depression. Four hundred to 1600 mg daily of SAMe to ensure your brain can make important mood elevating hormones.

Balancing Hormones: Supplementing with 2 to 4 grams of vitamin D daily can help with depression, because it helps the body make serotonin.

Sunlight: We all know that getting moderate amounts of sunshine helps boost mood. It’s no different with depression.

Exercise: People suffering from depression should also supplement their daily routines through more fresh air and physical activity. Exercise is a natural anti-depressant, and engaging in regular cardiovascular exercise like brisk walking or jogging is good for your body and mind.

Dehydration: And as always, drink lots of pure water to avoid dehydration, which is frequently a factor in depression.

source: Care2.com