By Laurie Heilman Bell
While some people can’t wait for the snow to fall, others find their mood deteriorating with the decreasing daylight of winter. Sometimes referred to as “winter blues”, Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD can be a serious condition altering the lives of those it affects. SAD can be difficult to diagnose, but it is generally recognized as symptoms of fatigue, depression, irritability, anxiety and changes to appetite and/or sleep patterns that recur for two or more consecutive winters and cannot be explained by other illnesses. Because SAD can be difficult to diagnose, its prevalence can only be estimated. Research in Canada and abroad suggests that between 2% and 9% of populations living at northern latitudes suffer from SAD.
The cause of SAD is not fully understood, but the most obvious culprit is the shortened daylight hours of winter. Our biorhythms are greatly influenced by the sun and changes in the sun’s patterns can alter our biorhythms enough to produce both physical and mental symptoms. There is no recognized cure for SAD, but a qualified healthcare professional can help guide you through your treatment options.
Common treatments for SAD include the following:
Maximize light exposure: keep curtains open throughout the day and remove any obstructions to the flow of light such as tree branches. Where possible, situate frequently used chairs, desks and/or exercise equipment near windows. On sunny days try sitting outside or taking a brief walk to enjoy not only the sun, but some fresh air and exercise.
Utilize artificial light: the daily use of artificial light devices such as the “Litebook” can be highly beneficial. Using these bright light devices for as little as 15 minutes upon rising can alert the body that the day has begun despite the darkness lingering outside.
Maintain a routine: A regular weekday routine interrupted by a weekend of staying up late, sleeping in and/or irregular or unhealthy eating patterns can worsen the symptoms of SAD. Keep your routine as consistent as possible.
Nutrition: A healthy diet can make an enormous impact on almost any ailment. Many nutrients are destroyed by heat and our preference for hot, comforting meals through the winter can cause our nutrient intakes to suffer. Increase your daily intake of raw fruit, vegetables, nuts, smoothies and fresh juices. Fibre rich whole foods can also help stabilize your blood sugar, thereby helping to stabilize mood.
Supplement: Vitamin D is produced in the body when the sun contacts our skin and therefore, levels of this “sunshine vitamin” can plummet during the winter. Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with a number of health problems including depression. Supplementing with vitamin D as well as quality multivitamin/mineral and essential fatty acid supplements can help ensure that your daily nutrient needs are met. A healthcare professional can also discuss other supplement options such the anti-depressant herbal St. John’s Wort or amino acid therapies like 5-HTP or GABA.
Exercise: Mild to moderate exercise can improve many of the symptoms of SAD related to appetite, energy and sleep. Exercise can also raise endorphins, brain chemicals that produce feelings of contentment.
Don’t Give Up: It can take time to see results, but your effort can help ensure that you are not shorted an entire season of happiness. Winter is inevitable, SAD is not!
*This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. For any health related concerns, please consult your doctor. Community Natural Foods and all of its associates shall not be held accountable for how this information is perceived or utilized.