How to Beat the Winter Blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
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How to Beat the Winter Blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Do you you feel depressed, anxious and tired during the winter. This is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. Here are some ways to beat these winter blues and SAD.

It is the middle of winter and it seems the snow won’t ever melt and the sun will never shine again. Do you dread it when you hear that daylight savings time is ending, and you feel depressed, anxious and tired. This is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. Many people feel this way during the long winters and there are some ways to beat these mid winter blues.

The Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Seasonal affective disorder is considered a form of depression and it shouldn’t be ignored. The symptoms of SAD are feeling depressed, moody, tired, anxiety, no energy, difficulty in concentrating (what was I just writing, oh yea) weight gain and craving high carbohydrate foods. The craving for high carbohydrate foods and the depressed feelings can cause some to drink alcohol to relieve these symptoms. Since alcohol is a depressant, it can cause the SAD symptoms to worsen. Have a piece of dark chocolate instead.

Scientists and doctors are unsure of the exact reasons people get SAD during the winter, but there are several theories. The lack of sunlight is believed to be a main cause of SAD. During the winter, not only are there more cloudy days, but also the sun rises later and sets earlier. The lack of sunlight can have a large effect on our circadian rhythms and the amount of vitamin D we get every day.

One theory is that less sunlight during the winter causes the body to produce more melatonin. Excess melatonin is thought to be one cause of SAD. Melatonin is a hormone produced in the brain by the pineal gland. It is thought melatonin is involved in the circadian rhythms of our body. Light is what causes the body to suppress making melatonin, and darkness is what causes the body to start making more melatonin. When the days are short and nights are longer, it is believed that the excess melatonin production is one reason some people get SAD.

Another theory has to do with the serotonin, also a hormone that is produced in the brain. Serotonin affects our moods, appetite, sleep, memory and learning ability. The reduction in sunlight can reduce the amount of serotonin that the body produces causing SAD.

Photo by kelsey_lovefusionphoto/fickr.com

Bright Light Therapy

Studies with bright light therapy have shown to be effective in the treatment of SAD related depression [1]. You can buy bright light therapy boxes. These lights are measured by lux, not lumens as with ordinary lighting. Lux is not the same as lumens. The light in most homes is between 100 and 300 lux. Normal office lighting is about 700 lux. For light therapy to be effective, the light has to be a minimum of 2,500 lux. Most bright light therapy boxes are 10,000 lux, which is the equivalent of spring sunshine. Light therapy has shown promising results and can be as effective as an antidepressant for mild to moderate depression and SAD. Light therapy will help quicker than antidepressants [2].

People with SAD will sit in front of this light and do normal tasks like read, work or eat. It is thought that the light will reduce the body’s making excess melatonin. If you try light therapy, it takes about a week to get used to the light. There are different colors of light and there are still safety concerns with the blue light therapy boxes. Blue light could cause macular degeneration, so for now stick with the white light therapy boxes until more research is done with blue light.

Natural Remedies for SAD

Vitamin D. Recent studies have shown that increasing vitamin D during the winter can relieve symptoms of SAD. It is thought that since we get most of our vitamin D from the sun during the summer, that lowered levels of vitamin D can contribute or even cause SAD. A good multivitamin will give you proper nutrients during the winter and also a good amount of vitamin D. Most multivitamins have about 700 IU of vitamin D. Doctors are now recommending as much as 2,000 IU and even more per day. Adding a 1,000 IU vitamin D3 supplement daily could help you with SAD.

Omega-3 fatty acids. Some studies have shown that foods high in omega-3 fatty acids can relieve symptoms. These foods include fish oil, salmon, mackerel, herring, flaxseed, flaxseed oil and walnuts.

SAMe is a chemical that occurs in the body that can also relieve depression. In the US, the FDA has not approved its use for depression. In Europe it is widely used to treat depression. SAMe can react with certain medications, especially antidepressants so check with your doctor.

St. John’s wort has been used to treat mild depression; it also causes light sensitivity in some people, which could affect how light therapy works. It can react with certain antidepressants. Talk to your doctor.

Dawn therapy slowly turns the lights on and then brighter, starting before you wake up. Simulating a summer morning sunrise.

Photo by fesoj / flickr.com

Simple Home Remedies for SAD

Stay busy and active during the winter. Go outside everyday and take a walk, whether the sun is shining or not. Exercise each day since exercise will relieve the stress and anxiety of SAD and lift your mood.

Do the things it takes to get a good night sleep like not drinking coffee after noon, only drink one glass of alcohol and don’t exercise close to bedtime. Keep your bedroom at a comfortably cool temperature; being too hot can cause a bad night sleep.

Make your home and office brighter. Put in brighter or more lights. Cut tree branches that block the winter sun and you could even put in a skylight, which can really brighten up a home.

Use the long winter nights to start a new hobby or continue an old one. Those quiet winter nights are great for all kinds of hobbies like painting, coin collecting, model building, stamp collecting and jigsaw puzzles.

Set up a ping-pong table in the basement and challenge everyone in the house to a winter-long tournament.

Turn on more lights and make your home feel busy if that helps. Turn the radio on to a basketball or hockey game, the announcers will certainly liven the place up.

Talk to a Doctor

Depression should be taken seriously. If your depression is getting more severe or last for days, talk to your doctor. She might suggest an anti-depressant for your symptoms. At this time light therapy and extra vitamin D have shown promise in combating SAD.

© 2010 Sam Montana

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Main article photo by prw_sylvan / flickr.com

[1] Light therapy as an effective treatment for seasonal affective disorder

[2] Consumer Reports Health

Light therapy lamps

Psych Education.com

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Comments (3)

very good article. Writing and playing instruments are also good activities at home.

Good article Sam on a relatively unknown area. Well written.

Louis

Yes there is growing concern about blue light advancing the onset of AMD and congratulations for pointing it out: few people and professionals do. Howerver, do not forget white light contains those blue light wavelengths too! Check my site out for an alternative using green light therapy.

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