Fighting S.A.D.

If you feel like you have a case of “the blues,” such as constant low energy or moodiness that you can’t shake, you might be suffering from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). SAD is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons, typically starting in late fall and early winter, and going away during spring and summer.  

Although the exact causes of SAD are unknown, some experts believe that seasonal changes disrupt our body’s circadian rhythm, the 24-hour clock that regulates how we function during sleeping and waking hours. Research has also shown that there may be biological clues, including overproduction of the hormone melatonin, under-production of Vitamin D, and problems regulating serotonin, one of the key neurotransmitters involved in mood.

If you suffer from SAD, here are some proven things you can do to be proactive and improve your mood during the colder, dreary months. 

Light Therapy: Use specific light boxes designed to filter out ultraviolet rays and emit light that mimics sunshine. The light from these boxes is provided in different wavelengths, and is about 20 times brighter than ordinary indoor light bulbs. Normally, this therapy requires 20-60 minutes of exposure. In addition to SAD, light therapy lamps can also help treat jet lag, sleep disorders, non-seasonal depression, and even dementia.

Vitamin D: Some research suggests that a vitamin D deficiency might underlie SAD (an estimated 70% of the US population is Vitamin D deficient). Taking a Vitamin D supplement is an easy way to increase your intake. Another way to get Vitamin D is to get outside and expose your skin to sun. Your skin makes Vitamin D from cholesterol when in sunlight. The sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB) rays hit cholesterol in the skin cells, providing the energy for vitamin D synthesis to occur. When you’re indoors, keep your blinds open to let as much natural light in as you can.

Psychotherapy & Medications: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that is effective for SAD. Additionally, antidepressants may be prescribed for short-term use.

Aromatherapy: Uplifting essential oils – such as bergamot, lemon, grapefruit, and rosemary – can help fight SAD. These essential oils can influence the area of the brain that’s responsible for controlling moods, and the body’s internal clock that influences sleep and appetite. These oils can also reduce anxiety, and boost both serotonin and dopamine. Try adding a few drops of these oils to your bath or in a diffuser.

Exercise: Fight SAD by trying to move your body, ideally outside if possible, and improve your circulation. Exercise can help lessen depression by boosting endorphins.

Massage: Fight SAD with a soothing massage, which increases your brain’s production of the hormone serotonin by 28% in just 10 minutes, according to University of Miami researchers. Massage can also increase your body’s dopamine levels up to 30%.  These two feel-good hormones can help you maintain a balanced mood, and stay productive and focused through the cold and dreary winter months.