Sunday, February 20, 2011

Seasonal Affective Disorder - SAD? Walk Away from the Blues

Seasonal affective disorder is a cyclical depression that occurs during the winter months, typically between November and March. It is brought on by insufficient exposure to light. As the days start to get shorter and the angle of the sun changes, the symptoms of SAD begin to appear.

It is estimated that 20% of the American adult population, or 36 million people, are affected by SAD every year. The further you live from the equator, the more susceptible you are.

As the seasons change from spring and summer to fall and winter, do you develop any of the following symptoms?

  • Diminished productivity or creativity?
  • Feeling that you have little or no control over your appetite or weight?
  • More memory and concentration problems?
  • Lower energy than usual?
  • Lowered interest in socializing?
  • Awakening feeling tired even though you are sleeping more?
  • Mood changes such as feeling more anxious, irritable, sad, or depressed?
  • Lessened ability to cope with stress?
  • Less enthusiasm about the future or reduced enjoyment in your life?

    If you answered yes to two or more of these, you may be one of the many people affected by SAD.

    SAD can be aggravated by reduced light outside during winter months and by spending too much time in indoor environments that have low levels of light, whether at home or at work. SAD symptoms have been reported during summer months from people who work in environments without windows. They can also occur in overly sensitive individuals at any time of year after a series of cloudy days.

    The 3 brain chemicals serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine affect how we feel, our energy level and mood. During the winter month’s people with SAD tend to crave sweets and carbs. Eating large amounts of carbs usually increases the amount of tryptophan (an essential amino acid derived from protein foods) that gets into the brain. Once in the brain, the tryptophan becomes serotonin, the neurotransmitter that is so critical to psychological well-being. So, if you tend to be drawn to sweets and starches in the winter months it may be your body’s attempt to raise your levels of serotonin.

    If you have been diagnosed with SAD, here are some suggestions:

    1)Get as much light as possible and avoid dark environments during daylight hours in winter.
    2)Discuss your symptoms with your physician. If diagnosed with SAD, they may prescribe special light treatments to help relieve your symptoms.
    3)Move that body – Exercise daily, preferably outdoors taking advantage of the natural light.Rearrange work spaces near a window, or set up bright lights in your work area.
    4)Stay on a regular sleep-wake cycle. It has been reported that people with SAD feel more alert when they stick to a regular schedule.
    5)Be aware of cold temperatures and dress to conserve your energy. Many people affected by seasonal changes are more sensitive to extreme temperatures.
    6)Avoid or minimize unnecessary stress.
    7)When possible, postpone making major life changes until spring or summer.
    8)If possible, arrange your vacation during the winter months in a warm and sunny climate.

    Set up a timer in your bedroom to switch on the lights a half an hour or more before you get up. This technique has been reported to have an antidepressant effect and actually help people awaken more easily.

    Eat a good diet. Choose lean proteins such as those found in lean meat, poultry (without skin), fish, eggs, beans and low-fat dairy products. When choosing carbohydrate foods go for the whole grain varieties as much as possible including bread, pasta and rice. Eat ample salads and vegetables as well as fruit daily.

    There’s no known way to prevent the development of SAD. However, if you take steps early on to manage symptoms, you may be able to prevent them from getting worse over time. By gaining control over symptoms before they begin, you may be able to head off the serious changes in mood, appetite and behavior that can disrupt your daily life.

    For more information, go to:
    Feel Free to Contact Shayn Cutino at:
  • Phone:(925) 516-2868
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