Seasonal Affective Disorder — It’s Not You, It’s the Environment

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Bring a Breath of Fresh Air into Your Life

seasonal affective disorder Seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D. or SAD) is a depression believed to be a response to shorter periods of daylight at certain times of the year. Also known as the winter blues, SAD occurs more often in people living where winter nights are longer so it is a logical conclusion that it is caused by the diminished access to sunlight.

The disorder was not identified until 1984 when Norman Rosenthal came up with the notion of treating the winter blues with light therapy. Since then, experts have studied the phenomenon looking for all the factors that feed into the disorder. To cure it, it is necessary to understand the disorder.

Does the Winter Make You Blue?

The first step is to see if you do suffer from SAD. The markers are fairly easily
identified. Check out these symptoms to see if your bouts of depression are related to the time of the year.

Symptoms start in the fall and progress as winter sets in. You might also be one of the rare cases where the blues are actually the summer blues. In that case, the symptoms will start in the spring rather than the fall.

SAD presents just like a typical bout of depression. You feel lethargic, anti-social, cranky, unhappy, and struggle to concentrate. You might also find that your sleep patterns change and your weight changes.

With SAD, both your sleep and weight changes are different than in regular depression. Instead of suffering insomnia, you will be sleepy a great deal. Instead of losing your appetite, you will likely crave carbohydrates which will lead to a weight gain.

Be aware of yourself and your feelings. The change in your overall attitude towards life might be gradual and you might not even recognize it as a pattern at first. You just don’t feel right and may think you have a low-grade flu.

However, as the winter progresses, your lack of energy and lackluster mood is a strong indication that you have the winter blues. You have to have a couple of seasons of feeling down in the dumps to be sure that this was not just a one-time disorder.

If you notice that your mood swings are seasonal, you should know that there is no actual test that will determine whether you have this disorder. The diagnosis depends on your history with seasonal mood swings and is coupled with tests that rule out other causes.

Untreated, the disorder can disintegrate into long-term depression and that can lead to serious issues such as thoughts of suicide. In other words, do not delay checking out symptoms of seasonal disorders.

Why Is This Happening to You?

The underlying theory is that the lack of sunlight causes SAD but studies show that it is not all about lack of sunlight. It can be genetic, hormonal, age-related and physiological.

For instance, hormonally-speaking, melatonin is the hormone your body produces in the dark hours of the day. If you live in a country with long winter nights, your body could be delivering too much melatonin. The resulting hormonal imbalance can set off bouts of depression.

Because depression typically involves disrupted sleep patterns, the production of the hormone serotonin is lowered. Many anti-depressants focus on treating the serotonin levels in an effort to alleviate depression. The whole process becomes a chain reaction of negative cycles in your weary body.

Also, it helps to know that some people are more at risk of having the disorder. Women are more prone to suffer these specific blues. So are people who live in northern climates. It is not often seen in children but it can begin when you are in your teens.

How Can I Make this Misery Go Away?

The first treatment for SAD was light therapy as the early thoughts were that the lack of sunshine was the basis of this form of depression. More studies are appearing all the time and some interesting facts are coming to light. Here are some of the standard treatments:

Light Therapy

Light treatment involves the use of lamps with full spectrum lighting that simulates real daylight and the notion is that the replication of natural outdoor light overcomes the physical response to the darkness of long nights.

Light therapy keeps your circadian rhythms functioning normally. These are your natural body rhythms and they are ruled by the suprachiasmatic nucleus in your brain. This is a group of cells in your hypothalamus, located above your optic nerve. The sun shines in on the suprachiasmatic nucleus and helps it reset daily to keep your body running smoothly

The problem is that humans have a circadian rhythm of 24 hours. Without proper light (and other inputs) your natural rhythms stretch out to closer to 25 hours. This is an imbalance that can throw you off. Your poor brain wants to work on a 24-hour clock but the environment is trying to set it to a longer cycle.

A typical treatment involves using a fluorescent light with 10,000 lux for half an hour a day. The directions that come with these especially-designed lamps are quite specific in terms of the distance you sit from the light box, the duration of the treatment and the time of day you use the lamp. (Morning is better.)

If you use a lower intensity light, you add more time. For instance, a 5,000 lux light requires an hour’s use of the lamp. It takes several weeks to know if the light therapy works.

Exercise and Proper Nutrition

Exercise and proper nutrition are recognized as healthy choices for general well-being. The positive impact of these choices on depression is well documented. Part of this is that diet and exercise can affect the levels of vitamin D in your system.

Harvard experts are among those promoting the need for higher levels of Vitamin D in your body. In particular they note that people living above the 37th parallel north are more than likely lacking sufficient vitamin D. As a rough guide to where this is, San Francisco is above the 37th parallel and so is Athens, Greece.

If you don’t get outside for a minimum of 15 minutes a day, your vitamin D levels can plummet. Since D deficiencies cause a multitude of health problems, improving your diet and exercising more can make a massive change in your overall health including your mood.

Aside from that, getting outside will help you deal with the negative impact of the lethargy that is part of SAD. It is difficult to get up and out of the house when you are in that state but the effort is worth it. If you are willing to spend an hour sitting in front of a light therapy box, you should be willing to step outside for 15 minutes.

Breathing Fresh and Clean Air

Reports are trickling in from the studies into the winter blues indicating that light therapy does not solve the problem for everyone. Often light therapy has to be supplemented with mediation. The seasonal blues involve a wider range of considerations than just the recurring reduction in sunlight.

Here is the big question – What is the one thing that is a constant in your body? What is the most crucial and yet invasive requirement for life itself? Air.

Air can be considered invasive because all too often our environment contains pollutants, germs, allergens, and just plain dirt. If you are indoors for long periods of time, stale and contaminated air becomes a huge concern. If you suffer from SAD, chances are that you are indoors and resist going outdoors and this exacerbates the matter.

You need to concentrate on making your surroundings as pure as possible. One ideal method is through breathing clean air. The purer the better. The solution is an air purifier. An air purifier does more than just blow the indoor air around. It cleans the air, increasing the value of the air you breathe. Air purifier reviews reveal the range of features that can and will allow you the best quality air possible.

Think about it. Your home is safely sealed from the impact of the weather outside. It may shut out excess heat and cold. But what is it doing with the pollutants inside? Yes, trapping them inside with you. The necessary act of breathing becomes a health concern as you breathe in materials that promote allergies, air-borne illnesses, asthma, and generally make you feel unwell.

Take My Blues Away, Please

Autumn is a time of change and sometimes people overlook the impact of the season on their feelings. You hunker down for the winter and tend to do less outdoors so when you feel like just sitting inside the house, it seems like a normal reaction to life. As you slip into a deeper lack of energy, you might not recognize immediately that life has lost its luster.

Be good to yourself and pay attention to your routine and rhythms. Start with better quality air. Add in a daily outing with the sun on your face and eat healthy. Check with your doctor if you have to struggle to get through the day and all you want to do is sleep. SAD is completely manageable and life is too good to spend half your year feeling miserable.


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