SAD? Are you feeling tired, lacking energy, experiencing fatigue, and a loss of motivation?Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is viewed as a form of major depression. In addition to depressed mood and/ or decreased interest or pleasure activities.
Many people can experience feelings of anxiety or depression during the holiday season. People who already live with a mental health condition should take extra care to tend to their overall health and wellness during this time.
Extra stress, unrealistic expectations or even sentimental memories that accompany the season can be a catalyst for the holiday blues. Some can be at risk for feelings of loneliness, sadness, fatigue, tension and a sense of loss.
A lot of seasonal factors can trigger the holiday blues such as, less sunlight, changes in your diet or routine, alcohol at parties, over-commercialization or the inability to be with friends or family. These are all factors that can seriously affect your mood.
However, there are certain things you can do to help avoid the holiday blues. Ken Duckworth, M.D., NAMI’s medical director, shares advice for managing your health—both mental and physical—during the holiday season in this video.
By Laura Greenstein
Do you ever feel less energized, motivated or happy during the winter months? If you do, you aren’t the only one. Many people’s moods and feelings are affected by the amount of sunshine and vitamin D they receive. “Some studies suggest an association between low vitamin D levels in the blood and various mood disorders, including depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and premenstrual syndrome (PMS)” says Mayo Clinic.
There are over three million cases per year of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is a mood disorder that occurs around the same time every year. SAD most often occurs during the fall and winter, but it can also occur during the spring and summer.
SAD can cause people to feel moody, gain weight, crave carbohydrates, lack focus and feel more tired even if they are sleeping more. Even if you don’t meet the qualifications of being officially diagnosed, getting enough sunlight is still important to your overall mood.
In previous years, I would always notice these types of symptoms begin to flare as fall turned to winter. In order to prevent my normal winter blues, I began to go for walks or runs around my neighborhood for 30 minutes a few times each week. I even went for walks when it was snowing, so that I didn’t remain inside for too long.
Since I started doing this, I began to not notice the drop in mood, focus and energy that I had been associating with winter for years. Not only that, but I also felt better overall. Below are some of the other health benefits to spending time outside even when it’s cold:
Less Stress and Anxiety
There is something innately relaxing —for most people—about spending time in the great outdoors. It gives you the chance to bring yourself into the present, sending your anxious thoughts out of your mind for a little while. Taking time to clear your head has lasting effects on your overall stress and anxiety levels. Also, studies have shown that certain scents within nature, such as jasmine, pine and lilacs have been shown to reduce stress and anxiety.
Stronger immune system
Vitamin D is a critical nutrient to how our body maintains a healthy and strong immune system. The easiest way to get this vital nutrient is by spending time soaking in the sun.
When we are breathing fresh air amongst plants and trees, we are also breathing in phytoncides. These are airborne chemicals that plants give off to protect themselves. This natural chemical contains qualities that are meant to help fight off disease.
Spending a lot of time inside can alter our circadian rhythms and throw off our sleep schedule. Being exposed to sunlight in the morning helps recalibrate these cycles, so that we sleep better at night and feel more energized during the day.
The urban environments we are accustomed to constantly drain our attention spans. Between cell phones, traffic jams, crowding and noise, are brains need a break every once in a while. “Using too much directed attention can lead to what they call “directed attention fatigue” and the impulsivity, distractibility and irritability that accompany it. The inherent fascination of nature can help people recover from this state” research from the American Psychological Association shows. Spending time focusing on the nature that surrounds us allows our brains to rest, which in turn helps us to focus better later.
If you are worried about being cold, dress the way you would if you were a kid on a snow day: wear layers, gloves, a scarf, a hat, etc. Or do a form of exercise that will get your blood pumping and warm you up. You can also bring a hot beverage along with you for your activity. Especially on a sunny day, preparing for the cold can be manageable.
Looking for ideas to get started? Here are my 10 favorite things to do outside:
- Walk around a lake or park
- Find a cozy spot outside to read
- Eat lunch outside
- Play Frisbee with a friend
- Go for a run around my neighborhood
- Hike a trail
- Ice skate at the outdoor rink
- Borrow (and make sure to return!) a friend’s dog and go to a dog park
- Get a group together to play capture the flag (or any other game)
- Go on a ski trip!
Whoever this anonymous person is, he or she got it right: “I’ve never found time spent amongst nature to be a waste of time.”
By Laura Greenstein
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that recurs regularly at certain times of the year, usually beginning in late fall or winter and lasting into spring. While the reported incidence of SAD in the general population is four to 10 percent, some studies suggest that up to 20 percent of people in the United States may be affected by a mild form of the disorder. The disease was officially named in the early 1980s, but seasonal depression has been described as early as the days of Hippocrates.
The symptoms of SAD include depressed mood, loss of energy, increased sleep, anxiety, irritability and difficulty concentrating. Many also experience a change in appetite, particularly a craving for carbohydrates, which can lead to weight gain. Some people report a heavy feeling in their arms and legs.
Scientists believe SAD is caused by a biochemical change in the brain, triggered by shorter days and reduced sunlight during the winter. In particular, two chemicals in the brain, serotonin and melatonin, have been linked to changes in mood, energy, and sleep patterns. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression. Serotonin production is activated by sunlight, so less sunlight in winter could lower serotonin levels, leading to depression. Melatonin regulates sleep and is produced in greater quantities in darkness. Higher melatonin levels could cause sleepiness and lethargy as the days get shorter. The combination of the changes in the levels of serotonin and melatonin could contribute to SAD.
There are various risk factors for the development of SAD. Females are up to four times more likely to be affected than males. Although SAD can affect children, it is reported mostly in people between the ages of 18 and 30, with incidences decreasing with age. Many have a family history of mental illness. Studies have shown that living farther away from the equator increases the occurrence of SAD. Those already experiencing clinical depression or bipolar disorder may see a worsening of their symptoms in winter.
Treatments for SAD include traditional psychotherapy and antidepressant medications. In addition, light therapy, a daily 30-minute exposure to a light box that simulates high-intensity sunlight, has shown promise in treating SAD. Interestingly, the ancient Greeks knew about the power of sunlight. Back in the second century, the physician Aretaeus instructed, “Lethargics are to be laid in the light, and exposed to the rays of the sun for the disease is gloom.”
One theory suggests that SAD is an evolutionary adaptation in humans, similar to hibernation in animals. As food gets scarcer and the weather gets colder, animals adapt by storing fat and reducing caloric output. Applied to humans, this could explain the carbohydrate cravings, increased sleep and reduction in energy levels. It could also play a role in reproduction, where it is more beneficial for a female of childbearing age to conserve resources.
While these naturally occurring body changes may have helped our ancestors survive, depression in any form can be serious. Anyone affected by significant symptoms of depression should consult a physician.