How to Combat Seasonal Affective Disorder or Winter Depression
View the video about what Seasonal Affective Disorder is
What is SAD Exactly?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a recognized disorder that occurs the same time every year that distresses a person. The symptoms will start as the weather starts to change usually as the leaves on the trees start to change colors in September and October. The symptoms do not diminish until the days start to become longer with more daylight hours, usually in April or May.
Researchers who have studied SAD believe that the symptoms occur as a result of shorter days of sunlight and are not dependent on the temperature. As the days get shorter, our bodies produce more melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone produced by the body that regulates sleep. During the daylight hours our bodies produce less melatonin and as the sun goes down, the process of producing melatonin increases. It is believed that because of the lack of sunlight during fall and winter hours, the body speeds up its production of melatonin.
Those who believe they are suffering from SAD should discuss their symptoms with their family physician. Unfortunately, there are no tests to check for SAD, so it is important for you to keep track of your symptoms and when they started to occur. With this information, your doctor may offer advice to help alleviate the symptoms of SAD.
The good news is SAD can be treated. It does not require expensive prescriptions and recurring visits to your family physician. With a few lifestyle modifications, you can reduce your symptoms and get back to enjoying life.
Tips for conquering SAD
There are many things an individual suffering from Seasonal affective disorder can do. They do not require fancy gym memberships or oodles of pills and many of these symptom relievers can be performed in the privacy of your own home.
Tip #1 Using light therapy
Research has shown that between fifty and eighty percent of those who suffer from SAD can reduce their symptoms with the use of light therapy. Light therapy is the use of artificial sunlight to slow the production of melatonin in the body.
Those who suffer from winter depression may purchase light boxes for light therapy. These boxes are designed with special bulbs that will not harm the skin or eyes and it is suggested they are used between the hours of six and eight in the morning.
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However, by simply changing out all of the light bulbs in your main living areas to “daylight” bulbs, you can get the same benefits. Many CFL manufacturers sell “daylight” bulbs or full spectrum bulbs, so you can install them without putting a big hole in your wallet. Many suffers have found that by using daylight bulbs in the early morning hours and then again as the sun goes down, symptoms are drastically reduced.
It is also suggested to set a timer on the light fixture closest to your bed. Set the timer for a half hour prior to your alarm clock going off. This will help trick your body into believing that the sun is actually rising even if it has not.
Finally, go for a walk. Even if it is overcast, the natural light does help and the exercise is good for you.
Tip #2 Watch the carbs
Many people who suffer from SAD find they turn into “carb addicts” as the daylight hours dwindle. This is because carbohydrates produce serotonin; the bodies own “feel good” hormone. It is suggested that instead of packing in the carbs (and packing on the pounds), sufferers consume more foods rich in tryptophan.
Tryptophan is a chemical found in many food products including turkey, egg whites, and milk. By consuming foods rich in tryptophan, you are getting the same benefits of producing serotonin without the added carbohydrates.
Because of the slow release of sugars, rye bread and bran cereal are also very healthy options in treating SAD. Following along these same lines, fruits like apricots, apples, pears, grapes, grapefruit, and oranges are also very helpful in combating the symptoms of SAD.
Tip #3 Take your daily vitamins
If you do not currently take a daily multivitamin, now is the time to start. Look for vitamins that contain a higher amount of Vitamin D, or buy Vitamin D supplements. Studies have shown that the decrease in sunlight drops our Vitamin D levels. And because the required doses of Vitamin D are not common in foods that we eat, a supplemental is beneficial.
Also known as the “sunshine vitamin”, Vitamin D is produced by sunlight hitting our skin. Vitamin D also helps maintain good joint health and builds up our immune systems. What better time of year than during the cold and flu season to build up your immunity.
Tip #4 Exercise
When symptoms are at their worst, the last thing you will feel like doing is exercising, but get that thought out of your head. Find something that you enjoy doing, dancing, yoga, even swimming. This exercise is not focused on building muscle or losing weight. By exercising, you flood your body with endorphins as well as boost your energy levels.
Endorphins are the “feel good” hormones produced naturally by the body through exercise, excitement, pain, and being in love. So save some time for your honey tonight and get those endorphins flowing.
Tip #5 Keep a sleep routine
The days are shorter and you are feeling sluggish, but you don’t want to spend your entire day sleeping and lounging around. Studies have shown that a regular sleep routine helps regulate hormone levels in the body.
Skip the caffeine to keep yourself going during the day. Caffeine has been shown to interfere with sleep and should be avoided after 5:00 p.m. daily.
If you have problems falling asleep, many markets sell melatonin supplements designed to help you fall asleep. Other home remedies can include chamomile tea, valerian tea, and milk. If milk is warmed prior to consuming, it allows the tryptophan to be more readily absorbed by the brain.
So if you think you are suffering from SAD, try a few of these tips until you find the options that will work best for you in alleviating your symptoms.
Tip #6 Mingle with friends.
It's good to be around people. Wether you are an introvert or extrovert it's always good to be in contact with people. Wether it's a friendly talk or a deep discussion it's good to set off your brain for a while to not think of negative things. And talking with other people help you do that.
Tip #7 Avoid Alcohol Consumption
Be very careful with alcohol consumption. Although the craving to alcohol can increase for some people when they are feeling down it's only a temporarily solution to your problem. Actually it will worsen your symptoms because alcohol is a depressant. So try to minimize or even avoid alcohol consumption at all. You will feel better not drinking alcohol.
Don't take these tips for granted. If you follow them it will have a positive influence on your mood. I know it's hard to resist bad things in life when you're feeling down but think of the end result, which is feeling better. You will shine again and feel good about yourself.
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