What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

Seasonal Affective DisorderSeasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) was formally described and named as a component of depression in 1984 by Norman Rosenthal, M.D. and his colleagues at the National Institute of Mental Health. It is estimated that as many as 9 percent of individuals living in the Northern Hemisphere experience some symptoms of SAD during the winter months, which include lethargy, excessive craving of carbohydrates, a drop in mood, and difficulty rising from sleep.

Thanks to decades of research, we now have a better understanding of SAD, why it happens, and what to do to avoid or alleviate its symptoms. It is definitely not something to be taken lightly, and those experiencing symptoms should not be fooled into thinking that one can simply will them away. SAD is not a “punchline” and the symptoms of SAD can be severe.  Many don’t realize that not only does it affect over 10 million Americans, it is often a component of a more underlying cause like clinical depression or bipolar disorder where a physician’s help should be sought.

What Makes Our Bodies Change During the Winter Months?

The winter’s shorter days and earlier sunsets can greatly impact the amount of sunlight we receive each day. Our bodies naturally need sunlight, as it is an important source of Vitamin D. Studies have shown that a vitamin D deficiency could lead to depression as well as certain cancers, poor bone health and a weakened immune system.

Our bodies also rely on circadian rhythms (dictated by the sun) to tell us when to sleep and when to be awake. However, our fast-paced world is often not in sync with these rhythms, and our bodies react badly to the dissonance. Our lives are not like those who came before us thousands of years ago, who practiced this natural rhythm for survival perforce by the rising and setting of the sun.

In addition, melatonin is produced by our bodies in greater quantity during the winter months, as its production is triggered by darkness. It tells our body that it is now dark and thus, time to sleep. This is why we find ourselves feeling sleepy, overly hungry, and foggy during those cold, dark days of winter.

What Can I Do to Avoid or Alleviate SAD?

Fortunately, there are many practical and multi-beneficial ways to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder. Make sure your Vitamin D levels are within healthy limits. This is essential to beating the winter blues. Vitamin D can be taken as a supplement, found in certain foods, or absorbed naturally by trying to catch some sunshine whenever possible. You would also be wise to take a good multivitamin daily and make sure you get enough essential fatty acids.

For those long, dark days of January and February, try a light box which has been shown in studies to reduce depression. The light box offers full spectrum light vs. the incandescent and fluorescent bulbs we normally use. Full spectrum light is the closest to sunlight. To find out more about the use of light box therapy and other ways to treat SAD, check out this article by Christiane Northrup, M.D. where she gives some great tips on how to keep SAD at bay throughout the winter months.

Finally, practice aerobic exercise, which can boost your endorphins, and relaxation techniques through meditation to reduce your stress hormones. You may even consider yoga, which has components of both. All should be incorporated into your regimen for a happy, healthier you.

As a partner in wellness and health, David York Agency is here to help our clients through the coming months of winter. We understand if you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Contact us at 718.376.7755 where we can provide a free consultation to help you with a qualified caregiver who can keep your symptoms in check.

If you’d like to hear more from us, please like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter, Google+ or LinkedIn. For more information, or to talk to us about how we can help you, please contact us. It is our pleasure to serve you.