Do you ever notice a change in your mood as the days get shorter and colder? Maybe you’re a bit more irritable or tired? Or perhaps you have trouble concentrating or getting along with others more so than at other times of the year. If so, you could be suffering from a type of depression that’s related to changes in season called seasonal affective disorder (SAD.) For most people with SAD, symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, making you moody and sapping your energy. (SAD can cause depression in the spring or summer but happens less often.) If you have felt depressed during the last two winters but felt much better in the spring and summer, you may have SAD. (Which is more intense than just the winter blahs.)
WHO GETS SAD?
According to WebMD, anyone can get SAD, but it’s more common in:
-People who live in areas where winter daylight hours are very short.
-People between ages 15 and 55. The risk of getting SAD for the first time goes down as you age.
-People who have a close relative with SAD.
SYMPTOMS OF SAD –
According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms appear during late fall or early winter and go away during the warmer days of spring and summer. Symptoms may start out mild and become more severe as the season progresses.
-Tiredness or low energy
-Problems getting along with other people
-Hypersensitivity to rejection
-Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
-Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
Now while it’s normal to have some days when you feel down, (I definitely have days I don’t want to get out of bed, don’t feel like being around anyone, or have a hard time concentrating…and during the holidays I always gain a bit of weight,) you might need to see a doctor if these symptoms occur for days at a time.
Treatment for SAD may include light therapy, psychotherapy, and/or medications. You can purchase special light therapy boxes over the counter or have your doctor prescribe one. Stores like Walgreens, Brookstone, Walmart, and Staples sell them for approximately $100. You want to make sure you purchase one that’s specifically made for SAD versus for certain skin disorders. Here’s some great information on how to choose one…
**IT IS ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT to see a doctor if your sleep patterns and appetite have changed or if you feel hopeless, think about suicide, or turn to alcohol for comfort or relaxation.
There are some simple things you can do at home that might help offset symptoms too. And even if you don’t have SAD and are just experiencing the occasional winter blahs, these can help lift your mood…
* Open the blinds and let the natural light come in. Sit by a window while the sun is out.
* Get outside and take a walk. Even on cold or cloudy days, outdoor light can help.
* Exercise regularly or increase your physical activity, which can help relieve stress and anxiety.
* Yoga – You can find free online classes at MyFreeYoga.com if you’re interested.
* Massage therapy
Even something as simple as a fragrant soap can help lift your mood. Strong, pleasant fragrances can help you feel happier within 10 minutes and help calm anxiety so lather up or take a bath.
Certain foods can help lift your mood too. Dopamine is the natural substance in our brain which controls pleasure and happiness. Your body needs tyrosine in order to make dopamine. Foods which contain tyrosine are easy to fit into your daily diet and include:
Carotenoids, which are the pigments that give red, orange, and yellow produce their bright color, can also increase your brain’s production of dopamine. Foods natural in this include:
Orange vegetables and fruits
According to British researchers, eating 1/2 an avocado daily can end blue moods as effectively as antidepressants. (Due to the monounsaturated fats which can boost electrical activity in the brain’s left side, which creates upbeat feelings.) Elizabeth Somer, R.D., author of “Eat Your Way to Happiness,” says eating three cups of broccoli on a weekly basis can help keep your moods on an even keel all winter long.
What About Supplements?
Some people choose to take supplements to treat depression but remember, nutritional and dietary products aren’t monitored by the FDA, which means you can’t always know for sure what you’re getting or if it’s even safe. If you’re on prescription drugs, you always want to check with your doctor first before taking supplements since they can cause dangerous interactions.
* Omega-3 fatty acids are healthy fats found in flaxseed, flax oil, cold-water fish, walnuts, and other foods. You can also take Omega-3 supplements, which are being studied as a possible treatment for depression. Generally safe, if you take high doses of these supplements, they could interact with other medications.
* Melatonin supplements are a synthetic form of a hormone occurring naturally in the body that helps regulate your moods. When the season changes and you have less access to light, melatonin levels in your body can change. Taking melatonin could help decrease SAD. Long-term use safety has not been determined for these supplements.
* St. John’s wort is used by some to treat mild or moderate depression but you really need to be careful with this supplement. St. John’s wort can interfere with antidepressants, HIV/AIDS medications, birth control pills, blood-thinning medications, chemotherapy drugs, and drugs to prevent organ rejection after an organ transplant.
Taking steps to keep your mood and motivation steady throughout the year can be as simple as eating healthier, getting some outdoor activity in your schedule, practicing stress management, socializing…basically, taking care of yourself with enough rest, physical activity and healthy food. If you can get control of your symptoms before they get worse, you may be able to head off serious changes in your mood and energy level.
Remember, you don’t actually have to feel sad to have SAD. If you notice frequent irritability, decreased energy, feeling anxious or blue, needing more sleep, trouble concentrating, or withdrawal from socializing with friends and family, you might want to check with your doctor.
And if you’re having thoughts of suicide talk to your doctor or contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-TALK (8255), which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and is free and confidential.