Michele lapsed into feelings of despair and darkness every November. For years she did not particularly notice the change in her temperament or energy level, but it became strikingly apparent to her husband.
She dragged herself out of bed in the morning and begrudgingly got the kids off to school and then herself to work. She described her mornings as being physically painful. She yearned for sleep much of the time. Michele became moody, lethargic and alienated herself from friends this time of year.
Michele learned that she suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is a type of depression that occurs at the same time every year and seems to develop from inadequate sunlight during the winter months. Researchers have found that exposure to sunlight alters brain chemistry. Factors like low levels of vitamin D in the blood are also associated with a higher occurrence of SAD. Problems with SAD are typically mild at first and then become increasingly severe as the season progresses.
- Difficulty concentrating
- Loss of energy
- Mood shifts
- Social withdrawal
- Appetite changes and cravings
- Loss of interest in activities otherwise enjoyed
- Chronic fatigue
- Spend time outside every day. The effects of daylight are beneficial even when it’s cloudy.
- Get adequate but not excessive sleep.
- Exercise routinely for at least 30 minutes.
- Eat healthy, regular meals – minimize sweet and starchy foods.
- Meditate or learn a relaxation technique.
- Keep a journal of thoughts, feelings and mood fluctuations.
- Take a sunny vacation if possible.
- Minimize alcohol intake.
- Take prescribed medication if indicated.
- Connect with friends even when not completely in the mood.
- Take vitamin D3 daily – check with your physician for dosage.
Light Therapy Treatment
Some people respond well to light box therapy for SAD. The rays from a light box mimic daylight, which is believed to change the brain chemistry that elevates your mood and eases other symptoms associated with SAD. Light therapy is also used to adjust the circadian rhythm or daily sleep cycle, which seems to play an important role in mood alteration.
Light boxes are generally used for 30 minutes or more every day, with the lamp shining indirectly toward the eyes. There is limited research on light boxes which makes it challenging to know which one would be most effective for you. According to the Mayo Clinic there are some important parameters to consider before buying a light box.
Michele understands that treating her SAD optimally means making some life style changes. She takes it one day at a time and commits herself to eating better, walking her dog outside every day and most importantly connecting with friends. As she says, “I am a work in progress, but I feel armed with the tools I need.” Now she knows that when symptoms predictably appear, she is empowered to change the outcome of her experience of the darker months. Michele understands that she is responsible for her own balance and happiness.
What’s a strategy you use to stay light in the dark months?