Are You Blue? What Can You Do About SAD?

Many people look forward to fall-the crisp, cool, dry air; the bright, clear  skies, the colors on the trees, the crunch of the leaves,  followed by a time to  cocoon inside and drink hot, mulled cider. Others dread the change of  seasons because they are affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a  type of depression that follows the seasons. Fall onset SAD begins in the fall  and typically lasts until late spring.

Typical symptoms:

  • irritability
  • loss of energy
  • disinclination to be around other people
  • cravings for sweets and high carbo-hydrate foods (which can easily lead to weight gain)
  • difficulty concentrating.

How can you minimize some of these symptoms?

Living in tune with the Seasons

I believe that the rise of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is due, in part, to the way our society lives. Our bodies evolved in tune with the seasons. In the fall and winter we have less hours of daylight. Mother Nature is telling us to come indoors, stop work earlier in the day, huddle round the fire and tell stories, and get more sleep. We conserve our energy during this time when evolutionarily food was scarce. If we make a conscious effort to live in a quiet, contained manner throughout these seasons we are less likely to feel depression.

For more about living in tune with the seasons see the seasonal health pages on this site: AutumnWinter

And I know that we still have to function in our society. Some suggestions for easing the symptoms of SAD are:

Be awake during the sunlight hours. Even if it means waking earlier in the morning, over time you may notice a difference in how you feel.

Get regular exercise. It’s important to get daily aerobic exercise to help lift mood.

Get outside in the sunlight as much as you can. Take an early morning walk, go out of doors during your lunch hour, and/or get outside as soon as you get home if it’s still daylight. And if you walk at a brisk pace you’ll be getting your aerobic exercise as well.

Go to sleep early. You were designed to go to sleep when the sun sets and wake up when the sun rises. If you stray too far from this biological pattern you will disrupt the delicate hormonal cycles in your body. In the winter, this may mean that you’ll want to go to sleep at least an hour earlier than in the summer.

Change your diet. Cut caffeine (an adrenal stimulant), high-fructose corn syrup, and refined carbohydrates (white flour, cereals, sugar, candy, fruit juices, sodas, etc.) from your diet and replace them with nutrient-dense foods higher in protein and fat.

Get your omega-3’s: Animal-based omega-3 fats like krill oil or fish oil are linked to better emotional health. Supplement with 750 mg EPA and 250 mg DHA.

Supplement with Vitamin D3 (a mood stabilizer among its other attributes). If you have SAD, supplement with 2,000 to 5,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily.

Replace the regular light bulbs in your home and office with full-spectrum lighting. Natural sunlight is full spectrum, and when looking for the best full-spectrum bulbs for your home, look for the full spectrum of color as well as infrared and the three ultraviolet wavelengths. For some people this change in lighting is very effective. For others, it is not quite enough.

Light Therapy. If changing to full spectrum light bulbs is not enough, consider a light box. For most people the strongest therapeutic effect requires exposure to artificial bright light in early morning – at an hour (6:30 a.m., for example) when it is still quite dark outdoors. For tips on choosing a light box click here.

If you chose to use a light box, be sure to read the directions for use carefully. If you have an eye condition of any kind, check with your ophthalmologist before beginning any kind of light therapy. Also, be aware that certain medications and supplements can make the retinas more sensitive to light and therefore increase the risk of eye damage. These include the drug lithium and the supplements melatonin and St. John’s Wort.

And of course, acupuncture and Zero Balancing can also help stabilize mood.