As winter approaches and the weather gets colder and the days become shorter, this may lead to the onset of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). SAD is a form of depression that appears around the same time each year. In most cases, SAD symptoms appear during late fall or early winter and go away during the sunnier days of spring and summer.
What causes SAD?
It is believed that, with SAD, depression is somehow triggered by the brain’s response to less daylight exposure. This lack of daylight exposure may impact the brain’s production of key chemicals. Two specific chemicals in the brain, melatonin and serotonin may be involved in SAD. These two chemicals help regulate a person’s sleep, energy, and mood. Shorter days and longer hours of darkness in fall and winter may cause increased levels of melatonin and decreased levels of serotonin.
Melatonin is linked to sleep. The body produces it when it’s dark or when days are shorter. This increased production of melatonin can cause a person to feel sleepy and lethargic. With serotonin, it’s the reverse — serotonin production goes up when a person is exposed to sunlight. It is likely that a person will have lower levels of serotonin during the winter when the days are shorter. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression; where as increasing serotonin can help to combat depression.
Who can get SAD?
SAD can affect adults, teens, and children. It’s estimated that about 6 in every 100 people (6%) experience SAD. The number of people with SAD varies from region to region. One study in the United States found the rates of SAD were seven times higher among people in New Hampshire than in Florida, suggesting that the farther people live from the equator, the more likely they are to develop SAD.
What are some of the symptoms of SAD?
· Feeling depressed
· Having low energy, feeling sluggish
· Irritability, tiredness
· Having difficulty sleeping
· Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
· Having difficulty concentrating
· Changes in weight
What can you do to combat SAD?
Create a sunnier, brighter environment. Open blinds, sit closer to bright windows, keep lights on, etc.
Spend time outdoors. Take a walk, jog, ride a bike, sit on a bench at a nearby park and soak up the sun. Even on cold or cloudy days, outdoor light can help.
Exercise and other types of physical activity help relieve stress and anxiety, both of which can increase SAD symptoms. Research shows that exercise can increase the amount of serotonin in the brain and can help improve mood. Please refer to my post,” Why Exercise makes you Happy ”. [http://www.jofrost.com/why-exercise-makes-you-happy/]
If you are unable to spend time outdoors, there are plenty of ways to get active indoors. You can try jumping jacks, sit ups, pushups, walk up and down the stairs, exercise DVDs, etc.
Avoid simple carbohydrates such as candy, soda, fruit drinks, pastries, etc. and focus on drinking plenty of water and eating whole foods, vegetables, and fruits.
Develop a healthy sleep schedule. Consistent bedtimes can help provide the proper rest and recovery your body needs.
Don’t wait until winter has begun; start today creating a happy, healthy lifestyle. That will see you through the winter and beyond.
Please consult with your doctor before starting any new activity.