A Season of (SAD)
The sun seems to have disappeared. The wind is cold and bitter. The sky is gray, the water is gray, it is hard to see where one starts and another ends. Some days you turn your headlights on at 10 am. The mental cloud slowly grows darker each day. You wake up and you feel tired, you feel blah, you may cry, you may stare off into space, you might not truly smile the whole day. You wish for bedtime, to sleep it away. There is an emptiness, a feeling of being alone and like you’re an outsider. You don’t want to talk to anyone about what you’re feeling. It doesn’t feel like it will help, you don’t want pity, they won’t understand. You are told to eat well, move your body, get good sleep, have a community of friends, practice gratitude, get your vitamin D, sit in front of your sun lamp and you do all of that and yet you still feel sad. It’s frustrating, it’s heartbreaking, it’s lonely. Giving up on making good choices is easy. Eating the sugar, drinking the alcohol, binging on social media or Netflix, keeping space from your loved ones, sleeping feels a whole lot easier.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects about 5% of adults in the U.S. It tends to start in young adulthood (usually between the ages of 18 and 30). SAD affects women more than men, though researchers aren’t sure why. About 10% to 20% of people in America may get a milder form of the winter blues.1
On average Michigan gets 160 days of part sun or sunny days per year. That means more than half the year is covered in clouds. SAD happens around the same time of year every year – in late fall and lasts throughout the winter months.
Researchers don’t know exactly what causes seasonal depression. Lack of sunlight may trigger the condition if you’re prone to getting it.
The theories suggest:
- Biological clock change: When there’s less sunlight, your biological clock shifts. This internal clock regulates your mood, sleep and hormones. When it shifts, you’re out of step with the daily schedule you’ve been used to and can’t adjust to changes in daylight length.
- Brain chemical imbalance: Brain chemicals called neurotransmitters send communications between nerves. These chemicals include serotonin, which contributes to feelings of happiness. If you’re at risk of SAD, you may already have less serotonin activity. Since sunlight helps regulate serotonin, a lack of sunlight in the winter can make the situation worse. Serotonin levels can fall further, leading to depression.
- Vitamin D deficiency: Your serotonin level also gets a boost from vitamin D. Since sunlight helps produce vitamin D, less sun in the winter can lead to a vitamin D deficiency. That change can affect your serotonin level and your mood.
- Melatonin boost: Melatonin is a chemical that affects your sleep patterns and mood. The lack of sunlight may stimulate an overproduction of melatonin in some people. You may feel sluggish and sleepy during the winter.
- Negative thoughts: People with SAD often have stress, anxiety and negative thoughts about the winter. Researchers aren’t sure if these negative thoughts are a cause or effect of seasonal depression.(1)
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms we recommend speaking to your primary care provider. They will be able to determine a treatment plan that works for you.
Some of the treatments that may be suggested include(2)…
- Light therapy: Bright light therapy, using a special lamp, can help treat SAD.
- What to look for: 10,000 lux for 30 minutes each day
- Reviews of the best light therapy lights
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a type of talk therapy. Research has shown it effectively treats SAD, producing the longest-lasting effects of any treatment approach.
- Check with your employee benefits. You may have access to a therapist for free via an EAP program.
- If you are unable to get in with a local therapist try an online program.
- If you are feeling suicidal or in crisis please call 988
- Antidepressant medication: Sometimes, providers recommend medication for depression, either alone or with light therapy. Medication can often be the catalyst to change. It can help you get out of the hole so you can start to eat well, move your body and engage with the world around you.
- The type of drug prescribed will depend on your symptoms, the presence of other medical conditions, other medicines you are currently taking, the cost of the prescribed treatments, and potential side effects. If you have had depression before, your provider may prescribe the same medicine that worked for you in the past. If you have a family history of depression, medicines that have been effective in treating your family member(s) may also be considered.
- Spending time outdoors: Getting more sunlight can help improve your symptoms. Try to get out during the day. Also, increase the amount of sunlight that enters your home or office.
- A quote by Alfred Wainwright I refer to often in the winter months, “There is no such thing as bad weather only bad clothes”
- Vitamin D: A vitamin D supplement may help improve your symptoms.
Get your levels tested before taking vitamin D.
Some other suggestions include:
Spend time with friends and loved ones. Allow people to know what you are experiencing. Ask for what you need from them. Don’t be afraid to ask them to only listen and not offer up any advice.
Eat a diet rich in nutrients. Dr. Drew Ramsey a nutritional Psychiatrist says that his favorite depression fighting foods are sardines, olive oil, cashews, leafy greens, roasted potatoes, dark chocolate, kefir and kombucha.
Keep a journal. In a 2013 study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, researchers found that a certain kind of journaling—sometimes known as expressive writing—may help in healing physical wounds, at least small ones. Openly writing about your hurts, wounds, and frustrations with a genuine voice can increase healing.
Other supplement therapies. 5-HTP, St. John’s Wort and Omega 3’s are some natural supplements that may help with depression and SAD. Always speak to your provider before starting a supplement.
Neuroplasticity training. Gupta Program™ Brain Retraining Is A Powerful Revolutionary Neuroplasticity, Mindfulness & Holistic Health Program For Chronic Conditions. If you are plagued with chronic negative thought patterns this program can help you break the cycle and increase freedom of your mind.
Testing. Working with a functional medicine practitioner can help you uncover nutrient deficiencies, gut or neurotransmitter imbalances and low grade infections. Testing is a great way to understand how your body is functioning and how you can support it.
You are not alone. This list of suggestions may be daunting and unhelpful. Don’t strive to do it all. Depression is tricky and it takes trial and error to figure out what works best for you. We are here for you and desire to support you as best we can. Please let us help you, you are not alone.