Sunday, November 1, 2009
Sometime ago i recall my life resembling a light switch. When daylight-saving time arrived in spring, it flipped on–I felt energetic, beautiful, focused, and active. In winter, however, it switched off. I struggled to do the simplest household chores. My weight ballooned. I would go to work and function at some level, but it was obvious that something was wrong. “All winter I was feeling like a turtle walking on the expressway.”
I finally realized that my mood change coincided with dreary days. A visit to my therapist explained in the diagnosis: There was one of 10 million to 25 million Americans, 75 percent of whom are women, who suffer from a subtype of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Though I heard of the winter blues but I didn't relate it to any disorder, until I heard of SAD. Also called “winter blues,” it often gets mistaken for clinical depression as the two share many symptoms–sadness, anxiety, lethargy, lack of sleep, diminished sex drive, and increased appetite. The difference lies in their duration and severity. SAD typically strikes around September or October and then fades away in March and April. (Depression on the other hand can occur year-round.) Merely troublesome and potentially disruptive at first, SAD can be controlled if you take appropriate action, but “left unchecked, the changes in mood and behavior can become so powerful they can create significant problems in your life and may manifest into year-round major depression if not addressed.,” says some doctors.
Light therapyThe primary cause of SAD is light deprivation, so light therapy ranks as the first line of defense. To put that therapeutic amount in perspective, traditional lighting produces 300 to 500 lux, and the sun produces more than 100,000 lux on a bright summer day. Contact your doctor to discuss what light therapy for you.
Many doctors recommend using light therapy for about 20 minutes a day at first, ideally in the morning. How early depends on the individual’s body clock.
If you suffer from SAD, try placing a light/light box 1 to 3 feet away while you eat, read, go through your mail, or meditate. If your symptoms remain unchanged, increase your treatment to 45 minutes a day or see a therapist for SAD. Reevaluate your symptoms on a weekly basis and make adjustments. “Almost everyone should feel the benefits within two weeks.” Brighten up your living and work space with full-spectrum light bulbs that closely match natural daylight.
Diet and exercise
Dietary changes also can ease SAD symptoms. For breakfast, incorporate a protein meal to boost intake of tyrosine. “Consuming this amino acid in the morning helps boost your energy throughout the day.” For dinner, less protein and more carbohydrates like whole grains to help the brain increase serotonin. “In addition to improving your mood, increased serotonin may help people sleep better.
You may want to add cod liver oil or more fish to your diet, too, especially cold water types like sardines and salmon that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. People with depression often have low levels of omega 3s.
I personally have found that staying active in winter helps me to feel ENERGIZED. Try chosen a treadmill or the elliptical inside a brightly lit gym, but don’t be afraid to head outside. On bright mornings and afternoons, go for a long walk. Got more time? Climb on a bike or hike up to Valley Green. You’ll get your required light exposure and also some exercise, which can help alleviate stress that may contribute to SAD-related depression. Psychiatry found the combination of bright light exposure and aerobics reduced many depressive symptoms, especially those related to insomnia and other sleep problems.
Mind over matter...Make it a Bright Fun-Loving Winter!