A strange anxiety hangs in the background of my psychology this year. If you’re like me, when the summer fades a fog moves in. I’m less engaged, tired. There’s a loss of hope and inspiration. I want to sleep all the time.
Older now, I have an anxiety about this state and these feelings. The things I’ve tried in the past during these periods didn’t seem to help. As fall rapidly approaches, I need a gameplan.
How do we defeat SAD?!
In the following we’ll discuss The 4 Things You Should do NOW to help prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder.
What is it?
Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD, is a form of depression most commonly occurring in Fall and Winter. Indicators of SAD include depressed feelings, losing interest in activities once enjoyed, low energy, trouble sleeping, irritation or thoughts of death and/or suicide1.
In particular, SAD symptoms may include oversleeping, appetite changes, weight gain, fatigue and low energy. Additionally, overating and loss of interest in sex and physical touch is also common under this condition3. SAD is five times more likely in females2.A less common version of SAD occurs in spring/summer months1. It is believed that 5% of the US population suffer from SAD. Interestingly, the further one is from the equator, the more likely they may suffer from SAD3. The reason for this brings us to the cause.
The days are growing shorter and this means less light. Light’s impact on our little human brains can’t be understated. Light impacts our production of serotonin, the mood hormone3. Without light, less serotonin is produced and our mood is decreased. In fact, serotonin reduces depression and anxiety, heals physical wounds and maintains bone health4.
Darkness causes us to produce melatonin, which causes us to be sleepy. On a larger scale, melatonin controls our sleep cycle. Light, conversely, causes the pineal gland to stop production5. This change screws up our sleeping patterns or circadian rhythm. Lack of sleep is tied to just about every health issue from diabetes to heart health and of course, mental health6. Sleep is so impactful on health, even a small adjustment. During the “spring ahead” phase of daylight saving time, research has shown a 25% increase in heart attacks the day after losing one hour of sleep. Also, strokes, fatigue, headaches and car accidents are more frequent. Conversely, the fall back causes night to fall soon and so, depression diagnosis spike 7.
The 4 Things You Should do NOW (the “Gets”)
1. Get Lit!
Treat the cause: lack of light. Light therapy boxes are designed to substitute sunlight during the darker parts of the year. Just thirty minutes a day with a light box (preferably first thing in the morning) has benefitted 85% of SAD cases in clinical settings3 . Doctors recommend a lightbox with a rating of 10,000 lux. The light should be 16-24 inches from your face8. You can purchase one of these a many retailers for $20-100 on the low end.
2. Get Down with D! Vitamin D, that is!
There is a link between vitamin D and serotonin production9. Patients diagnosed with SAD often have low levels of vitamin D3. Of course the other way that we produce vitamin D is through sunlight. Lightboxes and tanning beds can produce vitamin D in the body. However, doctors warn against the potential danger of cancer in certain uses10.
Eat food high in vitamin D such as salmon, crimini mushrooms, fortified yogurt and orange juice and eggs11. Or take a vitamin D supplement. Most of us need about 600 IU (international units) per day or about 400 MG (conversion IU X .67 = 600 X .67= 402)12.
3. Get Physical
Even a walk for 30 to 60 minutes can help produce serotonin and other chemicals in the brain that will help with SAD. Rhythmic exercises moving both your arms and legs (IE running or martial arts) are best13. Aerobic exercise has been shown to raise serotonin levels for hours after a workout and improve sleep quality14.
4. Get Together
While experiencing seasonal affective disorder, it may be difficult to get motivated to be social. However, the benefits of a standing social engagement (IE a group or club) are many. Take a yoga class or schedule a coffee date. The effect is described as a a “one-two punch”. First, you get the boost of looking forward to the activity and then you get the benefit of the activity itself15! Fill your calendar with these types of activities to avoid falling into the SAD trap of isolation.
As we get into fall, these 4 “GETS” will become even more important. So Get Lit! Get Down With D! Get Physical! And Get Together!