Seasonal Affective Disorder

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Here we are!  It’s the last week of October, the leaves are rapidly changing colors and falling to the ground.  The weather in mid-Missouri is per usual — unpredictable and indecisive as to which season it is.  A snow dusting is predicted on Halloween!  The Daylight Savings time change is in the near-future, and if you’re like me, you have a love-hate relationship with all of the above.

Brief history lesson: Several decades ago a gentleman by the name of Dr. Norman Rosenthal found himself feeling symptoms of depression throughout the fall and winter months.  His hypothesis was that because there were fewer hours of daylight, perhaps his mood was affected.  After Research Engineer Herb Kern treated his own similar symptoms with light therapy, the hypothesis struck a chord with professionals at the National Institute of Mental Health.  In the 1980’s, SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder, was coined.  Even the most recent version of the DSM-5, Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, categorizes SAD under the category of Depressive Disorders with the specificity of “with seasonal pattern.”

I actually experience and am challenged with the symptoms of SAD between the months of October and March, coincidentally, around the time the temperature drops, daylight decreases, and “Winter Blues” set in.

— Allow me to interject.  I was given the diagnosis of SAD by my primary care physician.  Every human experiences feelings of lethargy, sadness, and loneliness, in any given season.  Those feelings are normal and serve a purpose! They tell us something about what we’re experiencing in our environment and/or in our body.  In order to determine whether or not you struggle with SAD on a clinical level, please consult your physician. —

Fortunately, thanks to research, medical advancements, and the power of nature, there are many ways to combat the undesirable effects of SAD.  I am going to share with you the top five ways I fight Seasonal Affective Disorder.

  • Light Therapy: As was hypothesized years ago, many SAD sufferers, including myself, have found a way to supplement the natural effects of sunlight (without the harmful effects of UV rays!) during the winter months.  I can honestly say I have just a little more bounce in my step after spending about 30 minutes at my desk with my HappyLight plugged in.  It is small and compact, portable, and only costs around $30.                                             
  • Vitamins and Supplements: After a thorough physical from my doctor, we discovered I was deficient in Vitamin D and would also benefit from a boost of Super B Complex vitamins.  My doctor was able to tell me where my Vitamin D and B levels should be and I can supplement these vitamins during the winter months in order to help stabilize my mood. Once again — always consult your doctor before beginning any regimen of natural supplements or other medications.             
  • Exercise: I know, I know.  The last thing you want to do when you’re cozy and warm in your bed and it’s dark outside is to get up and face the world.  But, believe it or not, getting up before the sunrises and participating in some sort of physical activity jumpstarts the serotonin levels in your brain and gets your endorphins going!  Those of us who suffer with SAD experience benefits from physical exercise in the winter months even more than other times in the year; to receive an even greater benefit, exercising as our environment naturally changes from night to day increases the effects of activity.  I find that between 5:00 a.m.-6:30 a.m. I am not only productive (because everyone else is sleeping!) but my mood is set on the right track when it’s time to get ready for work.
  • Give me all the blankets!  We have a lot of blankets in our house!  And one of them belongs only to me: my 15-lb. weighted blanket.  You may have heard about weighted blankets before now; they are recommended for those who struggle with insomnia, anxiety, and other sensory-related challenges.  Weighted blankets provide a deep, heavy touch which works to calm the central nervous system.  Typically, it is recommended to use a blanket that is 10% of your total body weight.  There are even lap blankets and lighter-weight blankets formulated specifically for children.    I use a ZonLi weighted blanket that I purchased online, and I have begun seeing other brands in stores like Walmart and Target.
  • Talk Therapy: just like our vehicles and homes need a tune-up or winterization, we can greatly benefit from a “counseling tune-up.”  If you know you tend to feel more down in the winter months, especially around the holidays, consider making a set of regular appointments with a counselor to help you through the SAD months.  Often, talking through your day-to-day challenges with another person can get you over the hump of the seemingly-endless gray days.

If you wonder if you might be suffering from SAD or would like to talk to someone about your experience, give us a call at 573-228-6702 or fill out this form.

Written by Lauren Eisleben