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How to fight seasonal affective disorder

Updated on March 6, 2016

Seasonal Affective Disorder

The animal kingdom responds to the changing seasons, with an alteration in mood, metabolism and behaviour. A lot of mammals go into hibernation during these cold, dark months. Humans also react to the onset of winter in much the same way. With an increased appetite, tendency to sleep more and a dislike for the dark mornings and shorter days, often called "Winter blues". Self motivation and energy can become reduced, slowing down causing an increase in body fat.
For a lot of people, these symptoms become more acute and cause disruption, evoking a deep depression and considerable stress. These people are suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD starting-off from around September and lasting until April, but at their worst during the darker months.

Symptoms

  • Oversleeping, but not feeling revitalized, not able to get out of bed, napping in the afternoon, constant tiredness.
  • Overeating, an intense desire for carbohydrates, leading to weight gain.
  • Depression, despair, misery, guilt, anxiety.
  • Everyday tasks discouraging, difficult and annoying. Family/social problems.
  • Irritability, avoiding company, loss of libido and lack of patience with other people.

Physical symptoms which include joint pain, muscular aches, pains and stiffness, stomach problems and a lowered immune system (lowered resistance to infection).

The difficulty comes from the need for bright light in winter. Research has proven that bright light makes a difference to brain chemistry, but why some people are still affected is unknown. Light entering our eyes stimulates the nerve centres in our brain, commanding our daily rhythms and moods. When darkness falls, the pineal gland starts producing melatonin, a substance that tells our body clock it's bedtime. When daybreak starts, bright light alerts the gland to stop producing this melatonin, but with a burst of adrenalin this will kick-start the body into waking up. Serotonin is also linked to light (5HT), a neurotransmitter in the brain. Low serotonin levels can also cause depression, if you're depressed, this makes it more difficult to concentrate and achieve everyday tasks. Evidence has shown that drugs such as Prozac have the same effect as increased levels of serotonin.


Treating SAD

Light Treatment or Light Therapy (or Phototherapy)

The use of light therapy, with exposure to bright artificial light, improves the symptoms of SAD. The aim is to provide light that will stimulate a change in the levels of chemicals and hormones that can affect your mood.

Light Boxes

Bright Light can be Carried by: a specially made light box; light caps or visors worn on the head like a baseball hat; Dawn stimulates - timed bedside lights that mimic sunrise and gradually wake you.

Light contained in most light boxes is 10 times brighter than that of a normal light bulb, and similar to natural light.

Won't harm your skin or eyes like ultraviolet (UV) light. Tanning beds should never be used for light therapy. They only give off UV rays, which can harm your skin or eyes.

Why Exercise?

Physical exercise raises the body's metabolic rate, provoking the body to produce adrenalin, this stimulates the production of endorphins and raises dopamine levels in the brain. Power Walking or running during daylight hours for at least 30 minutes daily, will also help combat SAD. Cardio-vascular exercise done in the gym daily, with good indoor lighting or with plenty of windows, with a view outside. Weight training, also with good indoor lighting and big windows, is great for adrenal output, heart rate, metabolic rate, blood production and calcium assimilation. Exercise increases serotonin in the brain in the same way anti-depressant drugs do. Regular exercise has been shown, along with a diet high in fish oils, to relieve the effects of depression to a greater effect than Prozac and any other anti-depressants.

© 2010 Helen Bolam

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    • cathylynn99 profile image

      cathylynn99 6 years ago from northeastern US

      a 10,000 lux (measure of brightness) light box is the strength shown to have the most benefit. 1/2 to two hours per day in front of a light box is the reccomended dose. it can cause side effects of headaches or in susceptible people, mania.

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