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It’s not a lot of fun entering the winter months, especially if you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Rather, the summer months allow for a much more enjoyable experience. In fact, most people, whether they suffer from SAD or not, often feel better in the summer, when the days are longer, warmer and sunnier. This is the time when we can get out more, exercise harder and eat less.
Individuals who get the “blues” when the seasons change, also experience a change in personality — from peaceful and relaxed to tense and depressed. They may have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, moderating their eating and concentrating. They also may lose interest in the activities that they ordinarily enjoy, and they may feel irritable and down. Then, when spring comes, they feel like themselves again.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Around 30 years ago, those suffering from this seasonal change in personality had no idea what was wrong with them. But research over the years made the connection between the shorter, darker days of winter and the onset of seasonal depression, a phenomenon we now call seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is now a formal and diagnosable mental health conditions.
Doctors are still mystified why exactly SAD occurs, but some professionals believe that light plays a part, and that exposing people with SAD to extra light sometimes improves their mood. The hormone melatonin also appears to be involved. It’s known that melatonin regulates hibernation in animals. Melatonin is secreted in the dark, and humans have more of it in their bloodstream during winter than summer. Additional melatonin in the blood causes a decrease in body temperatures as well as drowsiness. As a consequence, those with SAD often benefit from light therapy because light shuts off melatonin production.
Seasonal Affective Disorder occurs in varying degrees. Some people suffer from a mild bout of depression, while others are so clinically depressed, they require hospitalization. In others, mood is unaffected, but their energy levels are so low that they aren’t able to accomplish the things they would like to or would normally be able to during warmer seasons.
So what can you do about Seasonal Affective Disorder? Actually there are few natural methods you can try that just might shake those winter “blues”:
Vacation Somewhat Regularly
If you can’t relocate to sunnier climates, at least get to a sunny and warm climate as often as possible, especially during the winter months. Warm areas significantly help SAD symptoms disappear. In fact, Seasonal Affective Disorder rarely affects people living within about 30 degrees of the equator.
For most people with SAD, it takes two or three days of bright sunshine to elicit a reversal of symptoms. And, consequently, a tipoff that you may have it is if you find great relief in your symptoms when traveling towards warming climates.
Exercise is fabulous for Seasonal Affect Disorder, especially regular aerobic exercise. Evidence suggests that endorphins are released during exercise, a group of hormones secreted within the brain and nervous system, which have a number of physiological functions. They are peptides that activate the body’s opiate receptors, causing an analgesic effect. In other words, they regulate mood. It’s important to exercise outdoors in the early morning hours, or near a sunny window.
Additionally, you can also keep your body’s clock in sync by rising and retiring at the same time each day, even on weekends or days off from work. When you can’t get going no matter what you do, try sucking on some ice. Its chill can give you a wake-up call. Or, splash your face and wrists with ice water. Another option is to use lemon oil or peppermint in hot water and inhale. These stimulating oils may give you a little extra pep in your step and help you wake up.
Reduce Your Caffeine and Alcohol Consumption
If you suffer from SAD, caffeine and alcohol don’t mix well with this condition. Alcohol is a depressant, which can further exacerbate your low mood, and caffeine may give you a brief lift, but it can also cause gastrointestinal issues, muscle tension and anxiety.
Rather than coffee or soda for your caffeine fix, a better choice is any herbal tea. These can include cinnamon, peppermint or chamomile teas.
Those with SAD experience abnormal carbohydrate cravings. It’s believed that the reason for this has to do with decreased levels of the brain’s neurotransmitter serotonin. Since tryptophan is a precursor of serotonin, taking in more of this amino acid may increase the body’s production of serotonin and help you feel better.
You should try eating more of these foods to see if your symptoms improve. Foods rich in tryptophan include egg whites, milk, turkey and cooked cereals, such as muesli and bran flakes. Other good sources include bouillon, rye bread, wheat pasta, oranges, grapefruits, plums, grapes, pears, apples and basmati rice.
Finally, and most importantly, get more exposure to light. Try to obtain as much natural light as possible between 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m, like a morning walk. If you can’t get out, spend time in the sunniest room in the house. Even if it’s cloudy, the natural light will do you good.
If there are overcast days, void of sunlight, try natural full-spectrum lighting indoors. One of the most effective treatments for SAD is daily exposure to a specially designed light box. Two variations exist: a special light visor (you want the particles of light from a light device to actually enter your eyes) and a “dawn simulator,” which is a light box that simulates sunrise by switching on when you awaken and grows brighter as the morning wears on. The amount of exposure time required each day can be as little as a half hour to as much as several hours. You can talk with your doctor about whether you should try one of these devices.
Whether it’s moving to a sunny place or cutting back on caffeine, there are several ways to decrease the effects of SAD. A professional can guide you through the symptoms of SAD, and suggest some of these natural methods that would best fit your lifestyle.