Everyone has the blues now and then, but Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is a depressive state that occurs seasonally usually in Autumn and Winter. If you suffer from SAD, you may feel perfectly normal during the Spring and Summer months but come the cool weather and shorter days and symptoms start to show up.
Sometimes this can make you wonder if its all in your head, but it isn’t. Its a real condition that can have devastating effects on your life.
The exact causes of SAD are not known, but there are factors that seem to be involved. A decrease in the amount of sunlight you receive is one such factor for the following reasons:
- Melatonin: Melatonin is a hormone that impacts mood and sleep. As the seasons change, your melatonin levels can fluctuate and may cause feelings of depressions.
- Serotonin: When the amount of sunlight drops, so can your serotonin levels. Since this chemical helps you have feelings of well-being and happiness, not having enough of it can cause your mood to drop.
- Internal clock: Some scientists think that decreased sunlight disrupts your normal rhythms of wakefulness and sleepiness. The result is sad and depressed feelings.
SAD will often manifest itself as feelings of sadness or depression. You may feel like you cannot sleep, that you cannot get up in the morning, you feel drowsy and tired during the day or you need to go to be a lot earlier than you usually do. Coupled with other life events occurring at the same time, such as separations, deaths or illness, the symptoms can be multiplied.
Your energy, concentration and motivation may also run low and this can effect your productivity at work and at home as well as any efforts you’re making to stay active and fit. Of course, not getting things done leads to feelings of frustration and leads to more feelings of depression. You may also notice weight gain or an inability to lose weight. Typically SAD sufferers will crave foods high in carbohydrates and sugars and can gain a considerable amount of weight each year.
Finally,your social life may also suffer as you don’t enjoy being around people as much. This can lead to social withdrawal and make your feelings of sadness and depression even worse.
The good news is that you can do something about this. There are ways to help combat SAD and there are also many treatments available to help you cope. Taking the following measures can help, but if symptoms persist, you need to see your health professional.
Things you can do yourself to prevent and help combat SAD are:
- Exercise – is a powerful player in the battle against SAD. Endorphins that are released during exercise make you feel more happy and confident. Endorphins give elated feelings comparable to the feelings that morphine and heroin create-without the side effects! You’ll need to workout for at least 30 minutes at a time for best benefits and keep the intensity on the higher side.
- Vitamin D3 – is referred to as the sunshine vitamin and your body produces it when your skin is exposed to direct sunlight. Vitamin D is actually a hormone that has important roles in supporting a healthy heart, cellular replication, immune system function, blood sugar levels and mood and mental health (plus more)
- Eating healthy foods – is going to keep your blood sugar levels more stable and provide the nutrients your body and mind need to function at their best. Even though you may feel like eating the typical comfort foods generally lower in nutrients and higher in carbohydrates and calories, if you can make better food choices, it will really help.
- Stick to a regular bed and wake up time. Help you body clock by going to bed at reasonable hour and getting up at the same time each day. Catching dawn rather than sleeping through it is said to help too. Its vital that you get enough sleep, so make sure you go to bed early and rise early too.
The ideal situation is to get up early, eat a healthy snack (if you can tolerate it before training) and head outdoors for a training session. A quadruple whammy of exercise, sunlight (unless its really early at certain times of year), early wake up time and healthy food before and/or after is a recipe to help ward off symptoms.
Training with friends and others concentrating on their workouts, will also help keep up your social life without the need to make polite conversation, explain yourself or take part in other ‘social’ activities such as alcohol use and unhealthy foods that will make symptoms worse.
During the day make sure you get at least some direct sunlight on your skin to help with Vitamin D levels. 10-15 minutes is usually enough if you have enough of your body uncovered. I make sure that I always wear sunscreen on my face, but expose at least my limbs each day to direct sunlight. Then make sure you get to bed early enough at night to get 7-8 hours sleep each night.
If you think you’re suffering from SAD, talk to a close friend or family member and/or a professional. For my clients who feel that this describes them, try to keep up your healthy nutrition and your workout schedule as well. It really will help.