Daylight savings time ends on November 5th this year and as clocks fall back an hour, the amount of daylight will be noticeably shorter. Reduced daylight, colder weather, holidays and work/school changes can all contribute to Seasonal Affective Disorder. Since this disorder affects millions of people each year (about 5% of adults in the U.S.) and is much more prevalent in women, we want to shed some light on it here on the blog.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of major depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern. The symptoms usually begin in the Fall and continue through Winter, showing improvement in the Spring.
According to American Psychiatric Association, SAD has been linked to a biochemical imbalance in the brain prompted by shorter daylight hours and less sunlight in winter. As seasons change, people experience a shift in their biological internal clock or circadian rhythm that can cause them to be out of step with their daily schedule.
Some of the most common symptoms of SAD, include:
- Increased hours of sleep (usually sleeping too much)
- Craving carbohydrates, resulting in weight gain
- Withdrawal from people and activities normally enjoyed
- Feeling guilt or worthlessness
- Difficulty thinking clearly, focusing and/or making decisions
- In severe cases, thoughts of death or suicide
The most common forms of treatment are light therapy, psychotherapy, and antidepressants (SSRIs).
Light therapy: a treatment using up to 10,000 lux full spectrum white light that is UV free. According to Mayo Clinic, the best time for use is within the first hour of waking up, for 20-30 minutes. We love the Verilux Happy Light Alba.
Psychotherapy: reaching out for help and talking with a trained professional can have a tremendous impact on mental health, especially if you find the right fit.
Talk with your healthcare provider if you are suffering from the symptoms above and ask for a referral if necessary. They may also prescribe antidepressants intended to increase serotonin (SSRI’s).
We should also mention that healthy habits and lifestyle shouldn’t be discounted when dealing with mental illness. We can’t discount the connection between the mind and a healthy body and ongoing research supporting the gut-brain connection.
- Eat balanced, nutritious meals and limit sugar. Try not to skip meals or severely limit calories. Balanced blood sugar supports mental health.
- Take a good probiotic and vitamin D
- Avoid alcohol and limit caffeine
- Get regular exercise to increase circulation, endorphins and remove toxins
- Get as much fresh air as possible
- Spend time in nature
- Connect with loved ones
- Pray or meditate and journal daily
- Practice gratitude
- Try a new hobby, create with no judgment
- Use aromatherapy; while not a cure, studies show that certain essentials oils can release feel-good serotonin and dopamine. Some oils include, bergamot, lavender, lemon, vanilla and jasmine.
So what does this mean for you if you suspect or have confirmed that you experience SAD? Being aware of it can be empowering. You may need to make adjustments to your schedule or lifestyle, for example, taking on more difficult projects at work or classes if you are a college student, during the Spring and Summer months. Taking care to get healthy habits in check going into the Fall season, instead of waiting until winter. Finding a great therapy light and begin using it before noticeable symptoms occur. Experiment a bit and journal your progress. Focus on the things that work best for you, and don’t forget to reach out to your support system.
As always, the information here is not medical advice and should not be substituted for the advice of a medical professional. Please check with your health care provider if you think you may be experiencing depression, anxiety or other mental illness.