This time of the year as the days are shorter and the cold settles in, many people find themselves feeling tired, depressed, agitated, having trouble concentrating, having poor sleep, craving sugar, carbohydrates and comfort food, having a sense of heaviness in your arms and legs, and feel like hibernating away from all human contact and binge watch Netflix. If this is you or someone you know, you may be experiencing a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.
Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D. is the psychiatrist who first described the condition in the 1980’s. People with SAD feel depressed during the shorter and darker days of winter (especially from November though February), and more cheerful and energetic during the brightness of spring and summer. It’s related to of less direct and intense sunlight effects on the body’s hormonal and nervous systems.
While varying degrees of SAD can affect anyone, the most common affected are those who are:
~ Age 15 -55
~ Have a family history of SAD or depression
~ Live far north of the equator (like New Jersey!)
~ Have a personal history of depression or bipolar disorder
~ Have low vitamin D levels
If you have SAD, you can help yourself through a combination of the following:
1. Use a light box. Light therapy is key in treating SAD. Think of light as a nutrient that you’re getting enough of in winter. I recommend the use light therapy daily.
Generally, the light box should:
· Provide an exposure to 10,000 lux of light
· Emit as little UV light as possible
When using the light box it’s best to do the following:
· Use it within the first hour of waking up in the morning
· Use it for about 20 to 30 minutes
· Keep it at a distance of about 16 to 24 inches (41 to 61 centimeters) from the face
· Keep your eyes open, but not looking directly at the light
There are many good light boxes on the market. The light box I personally use is Lightphoria by Sphere Gadget Technologies.
2. Exercise. Just 30 minutes of walking on a treadmill has been shown to help people with SAD. Research also suggests that it’s the frequency and consistency of exercising, rather than the duration or intensity. A little everyday is better than a marathon session once or twice a week.
3. Get Out. Get outdoors as much as possible whenever the sun is out. If warm enough, go without a hat to allow your head to absorb the rays.
4. Take a Vitamin D3 Supplement. Have a blood test to see if your vitamin D levels are very low.
5. Eat Well. Lots of lean protein, leafy greens and fish. You’ll need t fight the comfort food cravings. Soups and stews are particularly good. When you do get the urge for carbs, choose complex, whole-grain varieties, like whole-grain pasta and bread, instead of nutrition-deficient white carbohydrates.
6. Join the Conversation. Keep connected with those you are close with and care about. Regularly make calls and visit, emails & texts are not as effective for raising your mood. Don’t be shy about asking for help during this down season.
7. Go To Sleep Earlier. The sun sets earlier, so fall more in tune with nature’s rhythm by going to bed earlier to help re-set your own internal clock.
8. Go South, or West. Spend some time in sunnier climates to recharge your internal solar batteries.
9. Seek Help. If you are finding yourself falling into a deep emotional hole of despair, lethargy, and have difficulty functioning in your life, seek out professional help.
10. This Too Shall Pass. After the winter solstice (around December 21st) the days get longer. Keep focusing on the fact that eventually spring will arrive and with it a lifting of your mood and spirit.
Material on this blog is provided for informational purposes only. It is general information that may not apply to you as an individual, and is not a substitute for your own doctor’s medical care or advice.
Reading this blog should not be construed to mean that you and I have a patient-physician relationship.