If you live in the Northern Hemisphere
, this time of the year can be so gray and gloomy that you also start to feel gray and gloomy.
Depending on how far North you live, the hours of day light can be very short so that even if there is some lightness and perhaps sunlight, it is not for long. And that grey and gloomy feeling that overcomes you, well that is actually a form of depression and it has its own special name – Seasonal Affective Disorder
or the very apt abbreviation – SAD
SAD is thought to be mainly caused by a lack of sunshine – yes that very same sunshine that in the summer months we are encouraged by sun screen advertisers to hide from and to prevent its very presence and health benefits by slathering our skin in the toxic chemicals contained in their much promoted sun screens. In fact if we had ignored their advertising and made the most of the sunlight available in the spring, summer and fall months and topped up our vitamin D levels
, we might very well avoid suffering from SAD in the winter completely.
Sunlight travels through our eyes to the hypothalamus gland in our brain, controlling our sleep, appetite, mood and energy levels
Take away the sunlight and we experience an increase in the levels of melatonin – the hormone responsible for making us feel sleepy and preventing us from needing treatment for insomnia
– and a decrease in the levels of seratonin which is often called the happy hormone.
This same lack of sunlight also impacts on that circadian rhythm which is the process that controls the body clock so that we can end up with unfortunate symptoms that are not unlike jet lag. The one good thing about jet lag
though is that it disappears after a week or so at the most.
SAD is characterized by morning mood swings, low energy, increased appetite along with weight gain plus a feeling of being withdrawn and passive. You could easily compare this to going into a state of hibernation in much the same way as animals do who sleep away the winter months, tucked up snug and warm in their special place. But we cannot hibernate as much as we might wish that we could.
Serotonin also plays a part in understanding SAD. Known as the feel good hormone, SAD sufferers tend to have low levels of serotonin during winter-time, mainly caused by the overproduction of melatonin making us feel sluggish and down in the dumps. During this period, our circadian rhythm (the body's internal body clock) is disrupted as a result, causing symptoms such as insomnia, lethargy and anxiety.
We may well need some extra zinc, along with vitamin B, to maintain normal brain health and serotonin levels
Left unchecked, the symptoms of SAD can last for the whole of winter and beyond
Symptoms such as:
- Sleep problems
- Social problems
- Anxiety and lowered tolerance to stress
- Loss of libido
- Mood changes
What can be done about the symptoms of SAD?
Beat the blues and get the better of any grayness with these suggestions (or pick up the book "Fifty Shades of Gray"!) and Spring will soon be here again.
- Make the most of any exposure to sunlight that is available to you in the winter months. While this is obviously dependent upon the weather, even just one hour outside during the day can have a huge impact upon SAD. Try to do at least 30-60 minutes of aerobic exercise or other strenuous exercise at least 3 times per week. Walking, cycling or swimming are excellent choices.
- Get tested for your vitamin D levels. You should be well above 40 ng/mL to be in the safe levels and if you are not, then supplement with vitamin D3 (suggested dose is 8000 IU s per day until you are out of the deficiency zone).
- Think about using light therapy in the form of special lamps (that generate a very bright light) have been found to have a positive effect on the mood within about a week or so of daily use. Portable versions are available to use for 20 to 90 minutes per day. The Lumie Zip is a portable light box designed for such use.
- A Philips Wake-Up Light might well be helpful. It is designed to ease you out of deep sleep gently by simulating a sunrise. Over the course of 30 minutes, your bedroom fills with light (and your choice of sounds) to make dark mornings easier to bear. The only problem is that a rude awakening might await you when you do actually have to go out into the grey and the gloom of a winter morning in the real world.
- Diet is another important component as what we feed our bodies can also either increase or decrease the effects of SAD. By giving your body fresh, nutrient dense foods you are arming it with all of the tools it needs to work as effectively and efficiently as possible.
- If you do not eat a lot of fish, flax seeds or other sources of omega 3, then you should seriously consider an omega 3 supplement.
St. John's Wort is a natural alternative to antidepressants and is proven to help combat depression and boost serotonin levels.