YOU Magazine - March 2011 - Seasonal Affective DisorderThe Truth Behind the Winter Blahs
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Seasonal Affective Disorder
The Truth Behind the Winter Blahs

Seasonal Affective DisorderThe Truth Behind the Winter Blahs

Winter can be a trying time of year. Not only can the weather be harsh, to say the least, but many of us also experience things like fatigue, general malaise, and depression. If this sounds familiar, you're not alone. In fact, you may be suffering from a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.

What isSAD?
SAD is the result of a lack of sunlight in our daily lives. It's no secret that during the winter, days get shorter and nights get longer. In addition, the daylight we experience is frequently compromised by gloomy weather. What we don't know, however, is exactly why this has such a negative impact on our physical and psychological well-being.

One theory suggests that a lesser amount of sunlight diminishes the brain's production of Serotonin, a powerful neurotransmitter shown to regulate overall mood. A more popular theory states that a reduction of natural light causes the brain's pineal gland to overproduce the hormone Melatonin. While Melatonin happens to be a powerful antioxidant and crucial to our immune systems, it also regulates our "biological clock" as well as promotes sleep. In other words, neither a reduction nor an increase in melatonin levels is optimal.

SAD is most common among residents of northern areas, where days are the shortest and daylight is at a minimum. It is also most prevalent in people between the ages of 20 and 40, although it's seen in both children and older adults. In addition, it seems to strike women more than it does men. Statistics show that SAD affects over 10 million Americans every year.

Symptoms start with an inability to get out of bed in the morning, no matter how much sleep was obtained the night before. Throughout the day, lethargy and a lack of energy are common, and anything from a sense of gloom to abject depression can overtake an individual's overall mood. To make matters worse, one's appetite can increase along with cravings for high carbohydrate foods. A sufferer can also experience physical ailments such as headaches, heart palpitations, joint pain, sleep disorders, and even menstrual difficulties.

The common denominator of all these symptoms is a potential to spiral. A lack of energy typically translates into a lack of production. As unfinished projects and tasks begin to pile up, depression sets in. Lethargy and depression, combined with an increase in appetite, eventually leads to weight gain and even deeper depression. From there, relationships can be affected and the downward spiral continues, even picking up speed.

The Good News
Despite the circumstances, there are several forms of treatment for SAD. The best part is that many of these treatments don't require the help of a medical professional. In fact, the majority amount to nothing more than changes in your behavior. It is important to note, however, that if the seasonal depression you are experiencing is severe, seeking the advice of a qualified behavioral specialist is recommended.

The following are a few examples of the behavioral changes that may help to chase away the winter blahs:

Take a Proactive Approach
Now that you know there's a legitimate reason behind the seasonal changes in your personality, you can stop beating yourself up for feeling the way you do. Take comfort in knowing you are not the only one who's having these difficulties and put yourself on a path to doing something about it.

Begin by learning more about SAD. The Internet is a great source for information as well as support groups. There is also no shortage of books that deal specifically with the subject of SAD. The point is that the help is not going to come to you. Rather, you need to make the first move.

Change the Way You Think
We've already addressed the spiraling effect of the various symptoms of SAD. The good news about downward spirals is that oftentimes making a small change can break them. For example, instead of obsessing over unfinished projects, focus on the individual steps necessary for their completion. As the saying goes, "Rome wasn't built in a day." What's most important is that your projects continue to move in the right direction. Accomplish one or two necessary tasks and, at the end of the day, pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

Focus on Diet
Maintaining a healthy diet will have two very positive effects on your life. For starters, many studies have shown that what we eat can directly affect our overall mood as well as our sense of well-being. In terms of SAD sufferers, it's recommended that individuals stay away from sugary or simple carbohydrates and focus instead on a low-fat diet consisting of whole grains, fresh vegetables, and controlled portions of lean protein. The elimination of caffeine is also recommended.

The second positive effect that the aforementioned diet will have is its ability to control any weight gain. Maintaining your weight throughout the winter months will improve the way you feel physically, maximizing your daily energy. It will also help the way you feel mentally. Let's face it; being in "swimsuit shape" in January never hurt anyone's ego.

Focus on Exercise
Keeping to a regular workout routine of any kind yields many of the same positive effects as maintaining a healthy diet. But, for SAD sufferers, there is an added potential benefit. Whenever the weather permits, hold your workouts outdoors to maximize your exposure to sunlight. Taking brisk walks or going for hikes are perfect outdoor workouts, as are jogging or bicycling. Enjoy the fresh air and soak up as much sunlight as possible, utilizing sunscreen of course. If the weather doesn't permit, indoor workouts at your home or in a gym are far better than doing nothing at all.

Take a Winter Vacation in the Sun
It may be winter where you live, but the good news is it's summer somewhere in the world. If you've got vacation time coming, now may be a great time to use it. Spending a week or so in a sunny destination may be just what the doctor ordered. Aside from the trip itself, planning your vacation will provide a positive and enjoyable project for you to focus on.

Increase Your Indirect Exposure to Natural Sunlight
Keep the blinds or curtains in your home and office open during the daytime. If trees or bushes are obstructing your windows, prune them back. Think about possibly repainting the interior of the main rooms of your home, as brighter colors have a greater tendency to reflect light. And whenever the option presents itself, always choose to sit next to a window.

Be Social
Getting together with friends, whether it's in your home or in a public place, is a great mood enhancer. Rediscover the city where you live and take advantage of the various social activities it has to offer. If you have a spouse and/or children, involve them as well. Behavior such as this is a great step toward leading a fulfilling life.

Bright Light Therapy
This is one of the more popular treatments for SAD, but we recommend that it be done under the advisement of either a medical doctor or a holistic practitioner. It usually requires the sufferer to look at a special, broad-spectrum light for anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours every day. These lights are fairly powerful so overuse or misuse could cause damage to the eyes. Most sufferers find that their symptoms begin to disappear within a week. At that point, sessions are diminished until an effective but minimal schedule is achieved.

Vitamin Supplements
Various supplements, from vitamin B6 to St. John's wort, have been used to combat many of the negative effects of SAD. But, while many patients have had very positive results, it is important to consult your physician before using any dietary supplements. Many vitamins and herbs can have their own negative effects if taken in the wrong amounts, or taken by patients using medications for other illnesses.

If you are a person who has been experiencing the negative effects of SAD, we hope that this article has provided you a glimmer of hope. It should be comforting to know that there's a very real reason for the symptoms you've been experiencing during the winter months. Remember to stay positive and be proactive with your treatment. But, above all, look toward the light.

Total Lending Concepts NMLS #1043976 (Corporate) #2348348 (KS Branch) 6900 College Blvd., Suite 800, Overland Park, KS, 66211 (KS Office) 219 E Broadway, Columbia, MO. 65203 (MO Office)

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