'Tis the season for the blues, but not the soft, moving melodies you hear coming out of the clubs and bars but the brand of blues us health care professionals call SAD. Seasonal Affective Disorder. The shorter, darker days we're experiencing can bring on this depressive disorder. And yes, it is a real condition!

How do you know if your experiencing SAD?
SAD can affect as many as 1 in 10 people during the winter months. Symptoms include:

  • Low or lack of energy
  • Over-sleeping
  • Over-eating
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of isolation and loneliness
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty getting along with other people
  • Weight gain

Why might this be happening?

  • Your bodies internal clock (your circadian rhythm) is disrupted by the decrease in sunlight, causing more feelings of fatigue and depression.
  • Melatonin, a chemical that plays a roll in sleep and mood, may also decrease during the fall and winter season and light change.
  • Reduced sunlight also causes a drop in Serotonin, a neurotransmitter also involved in mood.
  • Lack of sunshine also means your not getting vitamin D from the sun that you need to keep your hormone levels balanced.

Who's at a higher risk of experiencing SAD?

  • Females (it may also be more severe in females)
  • Younger people
  • People with a family history of SAD or other depressive conditions
  • Those who already have a clinical depression or bipolar disorder
  • People living further from the equator

Can SAD get worse or lead to other conditions?
It can! If not treated it can lead to:

  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior
  • Social withdrawal
  • School or work problems
  • Substance abuse

How can it be treated?

  • Get natural light. Spending some time outside, even if it's gray and overcast, does actually make a difference. It will help increase Melatonin and vitamin D levels. Getting out there in the morning for 10-15 minutes is best but if you can't, do it before the sun hits the horizon!
  • Keep that body moving. 30-40 minutes of brisk exercise 4-5 times a week is ideal. If you can't make time in your day for a block of that time, do 15 minutes in the morning and 15 at night. It will make a difference, elevating your mood and keeping your weight under control during the food and cocktail filled season.
  • Make sleep a routine. Set a bed time and wake up time. Try to stick to it even on the weekends. This will help normalize your circadian rhythms so you won't be as tired or lethargic. 
  • De-stress. Exercise is a huge help here! Meditate, get a massage or cozy up on the couch with a cup of chamomile tea and your favorite show.
  • Consider light therapy. Also, called phototherapy, you spend around 30 minutes every morning (a good time to meditate) in front of a light box. This light is about 100 times brighter than household lamps. It can help  your sleep/wake cycle reset and give you the brigthness you need in your life during this time of year. 
  • Psychotherapy is another thing to consider. Talking about what may be troubling you with a professional can definitely help you feel better.
  • Acupuncture is also a good treatment. Acupuncture is extremely effective in elevating mood, regulating circadian rhythms and balancing hormones. You can also discuss supplementation or herbs that will help as well. 

You don't have to suffer SAD! You can take all or a few of the above steps in feeling great every season! When you feel good you can enjoy the fall and winter seasons for what they are. The time when all living this prepare for birth, rebirth, growth and renewal come spring! That couldn't happen without this incredible season! So don't wallow in it, cherish it! And let me know if you need a little help in doing that!

Enjoy the sunshine that has finally lightened up our lives this week!