SAD: Seasonal Affective Disorder
When Your Body Gets the Blues
What is it with wintertime and the blahs? Ever heard of seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD? SAD is when you feel down in the dumps during the dreary winter months. What causes SAD, and what can you do about it? Keep reading!
Q: What is SAD?
A: SAD is a mood disorder brought on by decreasing daylight. It affects an estimated half a million people every year starting between September and November and continuing until March or April. A SAD diagnosis is made after a person experiences this type of depression for three consecutive months, or each winter for several consecutive years.
Q: What causes SAD?
A: A biochemical imbalance in the hypothalamus due to fewer daylight hours and lack of winter sunlight.
Q: What are the symptoms?
A: For some, SAD is a feeling of being “down”, having less energy, maybe even days of not wanting to get out of bed. For others SAD is disabling and requires medical treatment. Common symptoms include:
- Oversleeping and/or difficulty staying awake; disturbed sleep and/or early-morning wakening.
- Tiredness and inability to carry out normal activities without exhaustion.
- Food cravings, especially for sugary and high-carbohydrate foods.
- Seasonal misery, guilt, hopelessness, despair, and loss of self-esteem.
- Irritability and desire to avoid social contact.
- Tension, anxiety, and inability to handle stress.
- Decreased interest in sex and even in touching or cuddling.
- Mood fluctuations in contrast to relative mood stability between April and September.
- Weakened immune system. More prone to illness and infections.
Can SAD sufferers be helped?
Yes. Light therapy in the form of “light boxes,” is helpful to some, and getting enough vitamin D is recommended for nearly everyone with SAD.
Why is vitamin D so important?
Most symptoms of vitamin D deficiency are identical to SAD symptoms. In addition to muscle pain, weak bones/fractures, they include low energy and fatigue, lowered immunity, depression and mood swings, and sleep irregularities. Sunlight is our major vitamin D source, but if you live in a region above latitude 40 (a horizontal line that runs from just below New York City west to northern California), then the sun is only strong enough between May and September to trigger the vitamin D conversion. If you think you may be suffering from vitamin D deficiency, get a blood test and talk with your provider about supplementing to get your tested vitamin D value up to 50-70 ng/ml.
What else can be done?
Watch your diet. Increase fiber, good fats, lean protein, fruits and veggies. Avoid sugar and processed foods. Other helpful practices:
- Supplement with B-complex.
- Exercise daily, preferably outside.
- Take 5HTP in the evening to help you sleep and lift your spirits.
- Take St. Johns Wort, but not in conjunction with other antidepressants.
- Consider having your hormone levels tested and balanced. Ventana Wellness offers testing to both men and women.