It’s the winter season again. Most of us are affected by the change in seasons – we feel more energetic and cheerful when the sun is shining or find that we eat more or sleep longer in winter. However, for others, the change in the season can cause an extreme mood disturbance or “winter blues” referred to as seasonal affective disorder or SAD.
What Exactly Is SAD?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is one form of depression that people experience at a particular season or time of the year. It is a recognized mental health disorder that is easily overlooked or mistaken for another. The signs and symptoms consist of:
- Feelings of sadness
- Problem with focus
- Loss of motivation
- Fatigue or low energy
- Increased cravings
- Weight gain
- Low sex drive
- Brain fog
- Stress and anxiety
- Excessive sleep without feeling rested
- Anger outburst or irritability
- Hyperphagia (increased consumption of food)
All these symptoms could be mistaken for the common depression. SAD resembles the common depression but unlike individuals with depression, those with SAD typically don’t harbor thoughts of harming themselves (self-destructive ideation). Antidepressants, the typical remedy for depression hardly ever work on SAD due to the fact that it’s actually a different monster entirely. If you experience SAD, the change in the seasons will have a much greater effect on your mood and energy levels. Less daylight hours and cloudy skies disrupt the body’s circadian rhythm as well as the production of chemicals called the neurotransmitters, which enable cell communication.
Symptoms of SAD recur every winter months and disappear in springtime or early summer. Throughout the winter months, when there’s much less daylight and less chances for sunlight exposure, the body’s serotonin levels drop. Your body’s attempt to raise the serotonin levels results in carbohydrate craving. Carbohydrates are essential components in serotonin production. However, in SAD, consuming even more carbohydrates does not address the issue. Instead, it results to weight gain, fatigue, and more carbohydrate cravings.
Ways to Stop Being SAD:
Most medical professionals provide SAD patients with antidepressant prescriptions without looking at other treatment alternatives. And that’s a shame since antidepressants do not really help a considerable number of SAD patients and its effects could be serious. Also, quitting antidepressants often needs a doctor’s supervision to prevent complications. Similar to most medications, antidepressants do not address the real cause of SAD. Rather than taking medications that only mask the symptoms, here are some recommendations you can try:.
Routine Exercise Workout:
Exercise is among the most effective remedies for common depression and it works well for SAD too. Simply allot 20 to 30 minutes of your time daily to walk or participate in any activity you enjoy. If the weather condition is poor, you can always do some walking or exercises inside your home.
Proper Diet Regimen:
SAD patients need a proper balance of vital nutrients. The body needs to balance carbohydrate consumption with the right amount of fats and protein to defeat this condition. For your daily calories, get 50-60% from carbohydrates, 20-35% from healthy fats, and 10-15% from protein. Avoid sugar as sweets appear to worsen the condition.
Vitamin D Consumption:
Vitamin D is necessary for healthy bones, teeth, and muscles. It also plays a role in the body’s immune system. Study also suggests it might have a psychological function – with researchers connecting low levels of vitamin D to mental health issues such as schizophrenia, depression, and seasonal affective disorder.
The body needs direct sunlight to produce D3. Unfortunately, the majority of people avoid sunlight exposure. Even those that do spend more time under the sun might not be able to produce enough vitamin D3 as such ability reduces with age. Thus, older people are particularly vulnerable to vitamin D3 deficiency. One simple remedy for this is to take vitamin D3 supplements.
Several research studies have linked decreased levels of vitamin D to seasonal affective disorder. A month-long study revealed that SAD patients who took vitamin D3 experienced improvement, while SAD patients that did not take any felt no improvement.
Another study revealed that five days of treatment with vitamin D was found to boost winter mood. The mood of SAD patients was found to improve a lot more when treated with a single dosage of 100,000 IU of vitamin D compared to those treated with light therapy. Further proof of the vitamin’s potential to alleviate SAD came from another study that was published recently. The individuals were treated with either 600 or 4000 IU of vitamin D daily for a minimum of six months. Both doses of vitamin D resulted in improvements in the individual’s mood and general well-being, with those on the higher dosage of vitamin D benefiting the most.