Simple, healthy choices can decrease the risk of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
The shortest day of the year, the Winter Solstice, is a marker that the darkest days are behind us and the sun is going to be shining longer each of the coming days as we end one year to begin another. Unfortunately, by the time that we reach this milestone and a promise of a less distant Spring, your body may still be suffering ill effects from the recent weeks of decreasing periods of sunlight as well as exhaustion from all of the pre-holiday preparations that so many of us allow to suck up too much of our time.
Staying “Merry and Bright” Takes a Lot of Energy
It makes sense that the human response to the naturally increasing darkness is to fill it with light and activities to combat the gloominess of the late autumn and early winter days. In November, when we really notice that daylight is shifting its balance with the night sky, we are beginning the preparations for family gatherings and keeping the oven humming and the sideboard groaning with rich and decadent foods. We’re eating more simple carbohydrates, often increasing alcohol intake, and spending less time engaged in outdoor activities. Workout regimens also may be more frequently disrupted by lack of motivation or schedule conflicts. Many find it easier to expend calories baking or reaching for another treat than to show up at the gym. And once motivation starts falling, it can take a lot more energy to build it back up than if it had been maintained all along.
The Winter Doldrums Are a Real Thing
The onset of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is ushered in as the level of natural sunlight available each day decreases. Many species in the animal world adapt to this change with hibernation periods. In the US, many humans adapt to this change by spending winters as far south as they can to avoid the bitter cold and the darker days.
Essential Cycle: Sunlight to Serotonin to Melatonin to Sleep to Peace and Contentment
The shortening of our daylight hours can wreak havoc on our Circadian rhythms. Exposure to sunlight positively influences our brain’s production of neurochemicals that keep our moods balanced. Sunlight cues our bodies to produce Vitamin D, which is often found to be deficient in individuals who suffer from depression (Cuomo, Giordano, Goracci, & Fagiolini, 2017). Serotonin production is helped along by natural light exposure and serotonin leads to melatonin production, which helps ensure our sleep-wake cycle stays organized. When there’s less light, there’s less serotonin, which leads to less melatonin, which leads to less sleep, which can lead to feeling tired, cranky, and depressed. Our brains are amazing machines that do their best to keep up with the rapidly changing world, but when we try to force our brain chemistry to respond to unnatural, controlled environments such as work schedules that don’t shift with the seasons, exposure to non-stop electronic entertainment/bombardment, and other treats/risks of modern life, we can end up having to “treat” problems that might not occur if we were able to follow the natural order of things.
Finding the Right Balance/Light Balance
While sunlight encourages the production of serotonin, it’s also tangentially increasing the production of melatonin, the chemical that regulates healthy sleep. One way to handle SAD is to integrate light therapy (bright natural light; lightboxes; high quality, non-flickering fluorescent light bulbs; sunlight-mimicking bulbs) at the start of your morning. This jumpstarts the brain into producing the feel-good, do-good neurochemical serotonin.
While serotonin production is ramping up through light exposure, the production of natural melatonin is kick-started, too. At the end of the day, when you are preparing for sleep, you can take a melatonin supplement to help re-regulate your Circadian rhythm. As the brain’s chemistry is getting back on schedule, your mood will also reflect the balance and symptoms of depression should ease up.
Eat Healthy to Decrease Depression
Avoid simple carbohydrates, processed foods, and sugar. All of these can upset your brain’s delicate neurochemical symphony. Stick to complex carbohydrates that provide better “fuel economy” to your body than junk food can. In fact, a healthy diet has been linked to stronger feelings of optimism (Kargakou, Sachlas, Lyrakos, et al., 2017). Avoiding preservatives and choosing fresh foods will be better for your body and your attitude. Depression is marked by feelings of hopelessness; this suggests that the optimism borne of a healthy diet is worth the effort.
Keep Hydrated with Water, Not Lubricated with Alcohol, or Hopped Up on Caffeine
Dehydration can mimic symptoms of depression, so make sure that you’re taking in an adequate supply of water (Pross, Demazieres, Girard, et al., 2014). Avoid or limit caffeine, alcohol, and other high-sugar or artificially sweetened beverages. These beverages affect sleep, too, which affects mood. No component of our amazing body works independently of any other system – simply being alive is the production of a symphony made up of many players and many well-calibrated movements of every cell.
Out-Run, Out-Stretch, and Outsmart the Winter Doldrums
Physical activity, rather than couch-potato sitting, will help you get through the darkest winter day with as bright a mood possible. Aerobic exercise is especially helpful in getting your brain on track with the production of serotonin and endorphins (Munuswamy, Preetha, & Priya, 2018). Walk the dog, park far away from the grocery store or after-holiday sales, or get on the treadmill. All of these can help stimulate the body’s natural mood-balancing techniques.
Meditation and Yoga balance Moods
Aside from the heavy-duty physical work-outs, you can also exercise your mind and body through more gentle means that can lead to a balanced mood state (Travis, Valosek, Konrad, et al., 2018). Mediation has been proven to enhance well-being and bring calm even in times of catastrophic illness and stress (Lemanne & Maizes, 2018). When your brain is in a meditative state, you’re actually quieting the regions of the brain associated with stress and worry while providing greater opportunities for the work of the regions associated with healthy psychological and physical functioning. Tai Chi is another gentle method for combatting feelings of depression (Zou et al., 2018). Activities that bring a balance between mind and body are highly effective in bringing balance to all aspects of your life.
Hopefulness about the Future
The frenzy of the winter holidays can lead to an overall post-holiday, gloomy January funk for many. Comparing the “blah” of January with the “bling” of December is not a pleasing thought. Add in a couple of quickly failed New Year’s resolutions and the days seem even more depressing. Recognize that what you’re feeling is a normal reaction to what’s going on around you. Also, recognize that you have the tools needed to ensure that you don’t fall too far into a bout of SAD. For protection against SAD, eat right, drink plenty of healthy fluids, and get active. If you are suffering from seasonal depression, research shows that light therapy is as effective as psychotherapy such as CBT might be (Meyerhoff, Young, & Rohan, 2018). Not only that, light therapy provides more rapid relief to symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety, hypersomnia, and social withdrawal. Make healthy choices, keep your body moving, and find the light and you’ll be well prepared to tackle the winter blues.
Feeling hopeful about the future is key to feeling better about the now.
Cuomo, A., Giordano, N., Goracci, A., & Fagiolini, A. (2017). Depression and Vitamin D deficiency: Causality, assessment, and clinical practice implications. Neuropsychiatry, 7(5), 606-614.
Kargakou A., Sachlas A., Lyrakos G., Zyga S., Tsironi M., Rojas Gil A.P. (2017) Does Health Perception, Dietary Habits and Lifestyle Effect Optimism? A Quantitative and Qualitative Study. In: Vlamos P. (eds) GeNeDis 2016. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, 988. Springer, Cham.
Lemanne, D., & Maizes, V. (2018). Advising Women Undergoing Treatment for Breast Cancer: A Narrative Review. Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 24(9/10), 902–909. https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2018.0150
Meyerhoff, J., Young M. A., & Rohan K. J. Patterns of depressive symptom remission during the treatment of seasonal affective disorder with cognitive‐behavioral therapy or light therapy. Depress Anxiety. 2018;35:457–467. https://doi.org/10.1002/da.22739
Munuswamy, S., Preetha, S., & Priya, J. (2018). A study on the effects of aerobics on depression. Drug Invention Today, 10(11), 2169–2171. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=132173465&site=ehost-live&scope=site
Pross, N., Demazières, A., Girard, N., Barnouin, R., Metzger, D., Klein, A., Perrier, E., … Guelinckx, I. (2014). Effects of changes in water intake on mood of high and low drinkers. PloS one, 9(4), e94754. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0094754
Travis, F., Valosek, L., Konrad, A., Link, J., Salerno, J., Scheller, R., … Konrad, A. 4th. (2018). Effect of meditation on psychological distress and brain functioning: A randomized controlled study. Brain & Cognition, 125, 100–105. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bandc.2018.03.011
Zou, L., Yeung, A., Li, C., Wei, G.-X., Chen, K. W., Kinser, P. A., … Ren, Z. (2018). Effects of Meditative Movements on Major Depressive Disorder: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 7(8), N.PAG. https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm7080195
How Can You Cope With Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Does winter bring you down every year? We give you some tips on how to manage seasonal affective disorder.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes with the four seasons, typically manifesting during the cold autumn and winter months, when the days are shorter, darker, and chillier.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the main risk factors for SAD are age, sex, distance from the equator (since regions farther to the north and south tend to have shorter days and less sunlight in winter), and a history of depression or other mood disorders.
Studies have shown that “young adults and women are most likely to experience SAD with the reported gender difference ranging from 2:1 to 9:1.”
People with SAD can experience a range of symptoms, but some of the most commonly reported ones include a sense of fatigue paired with oversleeping, chronically low moods, and strong cravings for carbohydrates, which can lead to excessive weight gain.
SAD can seriously impact productivity and day-to-day lifestyle, as the symptoms — if severe — can prevent individuals from going out, seeing other people, and engaging in some of the normal activities that they would otherwise pursue.
So what can you do if the winter months are getting you down? How can you cope with the lack of motivation, feelings of hopelessness, and debilitating fatigue? Here, we give you some tips on how to tackle SAD head-on.
Hunt down that light
Lack of exposure to natural light is one of the apparent reasons behind winter SAD, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that light therapy — also known as “phototherapy” — would be beneficial in keeping the symptoms at bay.
light box for phototherapy
Many studies have indicated that light therapy is usually helpful in treating this seasonal disorder, and for this purpose, you can use one of the many dedicated light boxes that are now available on the market.
But to be effective, you should make sure that the light box generates at least 10,000 lux — 100 times stronger than a normal lightbulb, meaning that a regular desk lamp won’t do — and that it has white or blue (not yellow) light.
Also, check that the light box was especially made to treat SAD, depression, and other mood disorders, and that it’s not made for a different purpose (such as treating psoriasis or other skin conditions).
Light boxes for skin treatments are another kettle of fish altogether, as they emit ultraviolet (UV) B, which is not safe for the retina. Instead, dedicated SAD treatment light boxes filter out UVs, so they’re safe to use.
Dr. Norman Ronsenthal — who first described SAD’s symptoms and pushed for it to be recognized as a valid disorder — offers some advice on how to use light therapy in his book, Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder. He writes:
- Obtain a suitable light box.
- Set the light box up in a convenient place at home or at work, or both.
- Sit in front of the light box […] between 20 and 90 minutes each day.
- Try to get as much of your light therapy as early in the morning as possible.
- Be sure to sit in such a way that the correct amount of light falls on your eyes. [Dr. Marlynn Wei says it should be placed at eye level or higher, 2 feet away from you.]
- Repeat this procedure each day throughout the season of risk.
At the same time, you can add to the beneficial effects of light therapy by making a little extra effort to “hunt down” natural daylight, if possible, and take advantage of it as much as you can.
You could do this by waking up earlier in the morning and going outside where the sunshine is, for as long as it lasts, to allow yourself to feel as though you’re soaking in the light and taking advantage of the whole day.
Eat well, and watch out for the carbs
Research has shown that individuals with SAD tend to eat more carbohydrate-rich foods, especially sweets and starchy foods. They also have a tendency to overeat during these periods of “seasonal lows,” so it’s important that they look after their diets in order to feel more energized.
vegan suitable food
Over the winter months, as we get less and less sunlight, vitamin D is insufficiently produced in our bodies. Research has also suggested that ensuring we get enough vitamin D may help to prevent and manage depression.
To make sure that you’re getting enough vitamin D during autumn and winter, you could take dietary supplements. Vitamin D is also found in a range of foods that you can easily incorporate into your daily meals.
Salmon, for instance, is naturally rich in D-3, though some studies suggest that wild-caught salmon contains much larger amounts of the vitamin than farmed salmon.
Eggs are a good source of the vitamins D-2 and D-3, and mushrooms also have a high D-2 content, though research suggests that we should stick to wild mushrooms rather than cultivated ones.
Some studies also suggest that people with mood disorders may have an omega-3 fatty acid deficit, and so supplementation of this nutrient may help to keep symptoms in check.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), some good food sources of omega-3 include various types of fish (salmon, herring trout, and mackerel), chia seeds, flaxseed, and soybean.
Also, research published last year in the American Journal of Public Health points to fruit and vegetables as the foods of choice when it comes to increasing happiness and well-being.
“Eating fruit and vegetables apparently boosts our happiness far more quickly than it improves human [physical] health,” notes study co-author Prof. Andrew Oswald.
The psychological benefits of fruit and vegetable consumption were confirmed by a recent study, from February this year, which focused on the positive effect of a “green” diet on young adults — one of the groups most at risk of SAD.
Make an effort to stay active
Precisely because some of the main symptoms of SAD are fatigue and lethargy, specialists advise that making an effort to stay physically active can offer a boost of energy and improve mood.
A review of existing studies surrounding SAD and the effects of exercise on this disorder suggests that the low moods and other symptoms involved in it may be caused by disruptions to the body’s circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm regulates our sleep, eating, and activity patterns according to day-night cycles.
Review author Benny Peiser — from the Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences at Liverpool John Moore University in the United Kingdom — explains that taking part in regular physical exercise during the autumn and winter months can help to maintain an appropriate circadian rhythm, thereby keeping SAD symptoms at bay.
A study recently covered by Medical News Today also demonstrates that even low-intensity exercise done for as little as 1 hour per week can effectively counteract depression.
Don’t give in to reclusiveness
On those dark, cold days, you may be sorely tempted to just stay inside and hide from the weather and world alike. If you have more severe SAD symptoms, going out may seem unachievable, but if you want to keep the low moods and lethargy at bay, then you should do your best to resist these solitary tendencies.
Try not to give up on seeing people and doing things.
Much the same as light exercise, studies show that a leisurely walk in the great outdoors can improve your mood and well-being.
Just taking one moment every day to notice a detail in your natural surroundings, and asking yourself what feelings it elicits, can make you feel happier and more sociable, according to research from the University of British Columbia in Canada.
The American Psychological Association advise that you keep in touch with friends and family, go out with them, and speak to trusted people about what you’re experiencing. Enlisting someone else’s help in keeping you active, and helping you get out of your shell during the cold months, may make it easier to cope with the effects of SAD.
Advice regarding how best to cope with SAD from Johns Hopkins Medicine also includes finding a winter-appropriate hobby that will both keep you busy and give you pleasure, such as a DIY project or a winter sport.
Moreover, don’t forget that there is help available for people who experience SAD. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been proven to be effective in the treatment of this disorder, and a specialist will be able to recommend antidepressants if you find yourself struggling.
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.
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!
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!
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:
- 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|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.”