Natural Treatments for Seasonal Affective Disorder
Symptoms: How Do I Know I Have It?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (aka SAD) is a type of depression that affects a person at the same time of the year, every year. The most common occurrence is during the winter months, although there is summer SAD as well. Those who suffer from SAD have an array of symptoms, including at least one or more of the following:
- Depression, which is defined as at least two weeks of having feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and disinterest in activities you normally enjoy. It is more than just feeling "blue."
- Anxiety and wanting to socially withdraw from the world.
- Loss of energy, including feelings of lethargy - your arms and legs may feel heavy-leaden.
- Sleeping changes, either not sleeping or oversleeping. Oversleeping is more common for those who suffer from SAD during the winter months, while insomnia affects more of those who suffer during the summer months.
- Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods that are high in carbohydrates.
- Weight changes - gaining weight happens during winter SAD, while weight-loss is more common during summer SAD, due to having a poor appetite.
- Difficulty concentrating with persistent feelings of agitation and irritability.
- Increased or decreased sex drive, or just an overall discontentment in sex-life.
- Those who have bipolar who are affected by SAD may notice a persistently elevated mood with rapid thoughts and speech.
It is very important to contact your doctor if you suffer from SAD, in order to get the best recommendation for your treatment. In some cases, there may be an immediate need for treatment, especially if you suffer from any of the following symptoms:
- Having thoughts of suicide.
- Turning to alcohol or drugs for comfort or relaxation.
- Withdrawing from friends and family.
What Causes It?
The cause for Seasonal Affective Disorder is unknown, although there are many factors that play a role in those who suffer. A person is more likely to have this disorder if they...
- Live far from the equator where sunlight is reduced in the winter and the days are longer during the summer.
- Have a relative with the same disorder.
- Are female. Although women tend to be diagnosed more frequently, men tend to show more severe symptoms.
- Have clinical depression or bipolar. Those who have these disorders are more apt to have worsening symptoms due to seasonal affective disorder.
Although we know who is more apt to suffer from SAD, there are several theories as to what causes this condition. Unfortunately, the true cause of this disorder most likely lies somewhere within a mixture of the following:
- Genetic makeup and the body's natural chemical balance. These play a role in many of our physical conditions, including those that affect the mind.
- Melatonin, which affects our skin color and is affected by the sun rays. This also plays a role in our sleep patterns and mood. With a disruption in the natural balance of this hormone, these areas are affected.
- Reduced levels of sunlight can disrupt our body's internal clock, which may interfere with our sleeping patterns.
- Serotonin levels may drop with less sun exposure. Serotonin is necessary for feelings of contentment.
More than Just the Blues
Light Therapy for SAD
There are many different ways to prevent and reduce the symptoms of SAD, one of the most popular means is through light therapy, also known as phototherapy. Since seasonal affective disorder occurs most often when the sun is down, it makes sense that if we provide light, then it may cure the condition. Especially since the light does affect brain chemistry.
Despite this, phototherapy only works with some patients, but not all.
It is important to note that not just any light will work, it must be a lamp that mimics the light produced by the sun. With just 15 to 90 minutes of light therapy a day, many people will begin to feel positive effects within two to four days. It is recommended to try this method for at least two weeks to see if it will help your mood, before determining if it will work for you.
How well phototherapy works depends on the strength of the light used. When looking at light therapy lamps, take note of how many Lux it has. Lux measures the amount of light given off.
Powerful lamps have 10,000 Lux, while a less powerful, yet useful one will have 2,500 Lux. Keep in mind, you may have to sit in front of a 2,500 Lux light bulb longer than one that has 10,000 Lux. A regular household light bulb will produce within the range of 400-1,000 Lux, not enough to make a difference in the chemicals in your body.
Due to a phototherapy lamp's power, you will not want to leave the lamp on for extended periods of time, since they will overheat.
Darkness Can Lead To Depression
Although light therapy has become very popular over the years, some other common treatments are still quite effective that we should not underestimate.
Exercise is essential for full body health, including mental health. Studies have shown that moderate exercise has benefited those who suffer from depression. Aerobic exercises, such as running or biking, will help raise endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and adrenaline in your body, which all contribute to your feelings of happiness. Some feel yoga and meditation will have equal effects on Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Acupuncture has shown signs that it relieves depression symptoms.
Find a Strong Support System. Some of us are blessed with a large supportive family, many of us are not. It is important to find those who you can lean on, whether it be church, friends, or another group.
Medication that is prescribed by your doctor, such as an antidepressant. Make sure your doctor is aware of any other treatments that you are doing, especially if they are herbal.
Change your environment by opening your blinds, sit closer to your windows, add a skylight in your house.
Go outside. A half hour outdoors a day will provide your body with enough Vitamin D for your daily need. Even when it is cold or cloudy, your body will benefit from absorbing the sun.
Herbal Remedies and Dietary Supplements are often strongly recommended, although it is important to contact your doctor before taking them, since some may interfere with your current medications or medical conditions. Some herbs believed to be beneficial are:
- St John's Wort - most commonly recommended dose is 900 mg daily (300 mg taken 3 times a day or 450 mg taken twice a day).
- Fish oils such as omega-3 and omega-6.
- Vitamin B-3 (niacin)
- Vitamin B-12
- Calcium and Vitamin D
There are many things to do to help cure your seasonal affective disorder. The key thing is to contact your doctor and be proactive in making a difference in your life. Your mental health affects your whole body, so it is extremely important to make sure that you not only are physically healthy but mentally healthy as well.
- Friedman, M.D. Richard A. "Seasonal Affective Disorder - Depression - Mental Health." The New York Times. December 18, 2007. Accessed February 27, 2018. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/18/health/18mind.html.
- "Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)." Mayo Clinic. October 25, 2017. Accessed February 27, 2018. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20364722.
© 2012 Angela Michelle Schultz