A Seasonal Pattern of Winter Blues
Just when everyone is asking you to parties, just when people are running around feeling festive, when it seems like every magazine is showing pictures of happy family groups around a cozy fireplace, you feel tired and sad. And you've noticed that every year at this time you feel this way---out of sync with the culture in the cold winter months. Do you also notice having an unusually difficult time concentrating and a craving for carbohydrate laden foods? Just when everyone else seems to suddenly find your company desirable, you just want to curl up on the couch and hibernate.
If this is a seasonal pattern for you, you may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.
Sleep disturbances, weight gain and fatigue which are symptoms of this disorder certainly do not help you to feel better! If this tends to begin every year around the same time and also, remit at about the same time of year, that is another clue.
Other problems that can create these symptoms are an under active thyroid, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromayalgia and low blood sugar or hypoglycemic issues. The difference is that these will not come and go in a seasonal pattern. A person with SAD can be just fine with a stable mood most of the time until that certain month every year when they get moody, unmotivated and just generally out of sorts.
However, a complicating factor can be if an individual already has a Depressive Disorder and then it is exacerbated in the colder, darker months of the year. They may have SAD in addition to the first disorder. If you think you fit in this category, you should see a therapist who will be able to help you delineate the problem, and may refer you to a psychiatrist for medication assistance.
If you are plagued with SAD, here are some things you, yourself can do, to improve your condition:
- A therapist can be engaged to help you with changing negative thoughts that are produced by this condition and which then contribute to sustaining it. A therapist can help you re-structure your time so that you don't isolate and don't sleep too much or too little. A therapist can help to figure out what is needed specifically for you to alleviate your symptoms.
- Keep good habits; keep your biological rhythms steady; keep a consistent sleep routine.
- "Spend alone time in meditation...It calms and energizes body and mind." Norman Rosenthal, M.D.
- Reduce your stress by scheduling activities that you enjoy. Even if you are not feeling sociable, try to make dates with companions who lift your spirits.
- Physical exercise is an excellent antidote. I don't have SAD but I
experience the stress of our societal pressures just like anyone else.
As of December 1, I began a program of walking every day. It has done
wonders for me! It is energizing---even when I feel so tired I don't
know how I can do it, I make myself---afterwords I have more energy.
Also, it gives me little bursts of happy feeling. Of course, good
nutrition will enhance the effect.
- Regarding diet, be sure to take in enough protein. Protein is brain food; it gives you long-lasting, even energy rather than the upsurge and subsequent crash you can experience from carbohydrates, especially simple carbohydrates (pasta, pastries, white grains, candy). "A protein rich diet sustains well being because it provides the amino acid tryptophan. Without it the body can't make serotonin, one of the brain's feel good chemicals. Ross recommends eating 20 to 30 grams of protein per meal to boost mood." Heidi Smith Leudtke.
- The current state of the art treatment for the SAD Disorder is light therapy. This is done with the use of a therapeutic light box. "Models with intensities of 2,500 to 10,000 lux are considered effective", says Rosenthal. The usual recommendation is to begin with 15 minutes of light therapy and add five minute increments until you reach the desired effect. For a more natural, easier way to address this problem, just make a point of spending time outside. Get outdoors into the sunlight. Even in winter, it is bright outside and will help you. The only exception to the recommendation of using artificial light to treat winter blues is if you have been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder; "...visible spectrum light used in treatment may be associated with switches into Manic or Hypomanic Episodes." DSM-IV.