It’s fall. Do you find yourself losing interest in things you normally love? Are you constantly exhausted from mid-fall to early spring? Does your mood shift primarily to a dark, hopeless mindset? If you haven’t had any other major life events lately, you might be dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Here’s what you should know:
WHAT IS SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER (SAD)?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that primarily occurs from the mid-fall to early-spring months. It is more prevalent in northern latitudes, where sunlight is sparse during this time of year. (1) It is believed that Seasonal Affective Disorder has a direct relationship to a lack of light received by our eyes. SAD can be debilitating, as I have personally experienced.
In my own history of Major Depression, I found my depression was much worse in the fall to winter months. So, SAD is part of the depressive disorder spectrum. It may overlap with depression in other forms.
WHAT CAUSES SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER?
It is apparent that there is a direct relationship between a lack of light received by our eyes and our sleep-wake cycles (circadian rhythms). (1) These cycles in our bodies have a profound effect on our sleep and mood. Other factors may include: Erratic sleep schedules or working night shifts, low Vitamin D, Folate, B12 levels, lack of exercise, and poor diet.
WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER?
The number one thing I can recommend is get more light in your life. I mean that metaphorically and literally. The top researched method of treating Seasonal Affective Disorder is Bright Light Therapy (3). Bright light therapy consists of buying a light “box” that sits on a desk. It is recommended that you sit in front of the box for about 30 minutes at 10,000 lux. Lux is a measurement of brightness per area. Look for this measurement when purchasing a light box. They are relatively inexpensive now. They used to cost a lot more. Check out online retailers or do a Google search. I’ve found that Bright Light Therapy is effective in keeping my nonseasonal depression at bay as well. Interestingly enough, new research has now confirmed that bright light therapy is an effective tool for nonseasonal depression (2).
- Go to bed and rise at the same time. This is critical. It re-establishes a regular circadian rhythm to your body, which will make it simpler to regulate mood. I will say however, this can be easier said than done. In my own experience, SAD makes it difficult to sleep in the first place. I found that my fatigue was excessive in the middle of the day, instead of the end. This is problematic if you are trying to sleep! My recommendation is to start dialing back your bedtime by 10-15 minutes every few days. Slowly adjust. Be firm with your new schedule. Have someone else hold you accountable if possible. It really makes a huge difference!
- Get your heart beating and your body moving. There is nothing worse for depression than stagnation. If you don’t move, you will feel like crap. Depression is an illness where your body responds similarly as if you had the flu: you tend to crawl up into a little ball and go nowhere. While this seems intuitive to your body, it’s the opposite of what you should be doing. Get up and move! 30-60 minutes of daily aerobic exercise is best, but even a brisk walk will help! Do Yoga, Pilates, or something that makes you feel strong like lifting weights. Strength training will help release hormones to counter some of the feelings associated with SAD.
- Check your Vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is closely associated with depression and multiple studies have shown that improving your serum (blood) Vitamin D levels may improve mood. (4) Also, there is increasing evidence that deficiency in Vitamin B12 and Folate are closely related to depression as well. (5) See if your doctor will run a blood lab for you.
- Consider Therapy or Mindfulness-Based Meditation. If your symptoms are debilitating, you might need help from a professional psychiatrist or psychologist. There is a great deal of emerging evidence using mindfulness-based therapies (6), such as mindfulness-based meditation or mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for the treatment of depressive disorders. I found mindfulness meditation as an incredibly powerful tool in the treatment of my depression and SAD. If you want to learn more about Mindfulness-based meditation, I recommend Googling Jon-Kabat Zinn.
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- Mayo Clinic: Seasonal Affective Disorder: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/basics/definition/con-20021047
- Efficacy of Bright Light Treatment, Fluoxetine, and the Combination in Patients With Nonseasonal Major Depressive Disorder: http://archpsyc.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2470681
- Bright Light Therapy: http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/19029878
- Effects of vitamin D supplementation on symptoms of depression in overweight and obese subjects: randomized double blind trial: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2796.2008.02008.x/full
- Vitamin B12, Folate, and Homocysteine in Depression: The Rotterdam Study: http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/10.1176/appi.ajp.159.12.2099
- The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: A meta-analytic review: http://psycnet.apa.org/index.cfm?fa=buy.optionToBuy&uid=2010-05835-004
Images by: “Melancholy 2” by Andrew Mason (London, UK) – cropped version of: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Melancholys_Warm_Embrace.jpg. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Melancholy_2.PNG#/media/File:Melancholy_2.PNG