What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
When we moved from Colorado to Ohio I started becoming slightly depressed in the winter. It took me awhile to figure out why. Colorado is one of the sunniest states, especially in the winter and Ohio is one of the gloomiest. Each fall as the days grow shorter I start to feel very down in general and just absolutely dread the coming winter. I have come to realize that what I most likely suffer from is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD for short).
Seasonal Affective Disorder affects up to 10% of the population. Typically the farther from the equator people live, the higher percentage of the population is affected. SAD is a mood disorder that causes temporary depression symptoms in a person who has no depression symptoms for most of the year. SAD also typically affects women. Reading about the symptoms, I definitely think that SAD affects me each winter.
Seasonal Affective Disorder can also cause weight gain and oversleeping. Other symptoms include depression, hopelessness, loss of interest in friends, family and/or hobbies, loss of energy and increased anxiety. That sounds like a lot to deal with each winter, but there are things you can do to help, or even prevent SAD.
Seasonal Affective Disorder can cause disruptions in our melatonin and serotonin levels. The shortened days affect our melatonin levels which can disrupt our sleep and wake patterns as well as our moods. Lower levels of sunlight can affect the levels of serotonin which can lead to depression. Light therapy can help regulate these levels, reducing the effects of SAD on your body. There are also medications that can help SAD sufferers, but I prefer a more natural approach.
One of the best things that has helped me each winter is to go outside every single day. Even when I can't see the sun, forcing myself to go outside for a walk for 20-30 minutes each day really helps my mood. I have also found that taking a Vitamin D supplement helps the depression. Studies are still out on whether a Vitamin D deficiency can cause SAD, but they are pointing in that direction as a possible cause. Getting more sunshine (which helps the body naturally produce Vitamin D) and taking a Vitamin D supplement have helped me tremendously.
Exercise is another natural alternative for treating SAD - my daily walk helps me meet both these natural remedies. I know that when you suffer from depression it is common to want to close the curtains and blinds and not leave the house. This is the opposite of what you should do though. Let as much light in as you can and make your home as bright as possible. You should also try to sit close to windows or doors where the sun is streaming in.
My favorite remedy for SAD is one that many NE Ohioans do each year. They take a week off and head down south - typically to Florida. This week long dose of sunshine and warm weather tend to keep most people in a pretty good mood. Now if only I could get my husband to go along with that idea maybe I wouldn't suffer from SAD at all. SAD is a pretty common form of depression that affects more people than you realize. But there are things you can do that will help you deal with the long dark winters and hopefully get you to a healthy springtime.