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Winter Blahs or SAD?

Looking back you may ask yourself, when did it start.  Was it the week we switched from Day Light Savings time or was it when your schedule ran amuck with holiday plans, parties, and craziness?  You probably can't pinpoint it but you know somewhere along in there you started hitting the snooze alarm at least once, you needed that second cup of joe to get you going in the morning and you had to push yourself twice as hard to get your exercise program completed for the day.  So is it just the winter blahs that have you slowing down or is it SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression most often associated with lack of daylight in northern and southern latitudes from the late fall to the early spring.  It is thought that this disorder is due to lack of sun/daylight brought on by the shortened hours of daylight but also from the cloudy, overcast weather. 

However, we need to take into consideration the fact that it is cold outdoors so we humans would rather cuddle up indoors and not take advantage of the days when the sun is shining.  For instance last Saturday it was a beautiful, clear and sunny day.  The sky was a lovely ocean blue with only a few wifts of clouds.  It was one of those days that beckons you out into it.  However, as soon as you fastened up that coat, slipped on your gloves and ventured out, you were likely to turn around and head right back inside.  The winds were brisk, out of the north, bringing the temperatures down to near 20 degrees.  Now really, who wants to be out enjoying the sunlight when it is 20 degrees?   

Some common symptoms of SAD are as follows:

  • Exhaustion accompanied by desire to sleep even though you may be getting your full 8 hours a night.
  • Irritability
  • Weight Gain
  • Craving for sweets and simple carbohydrates
  • Anxiety
  • Burned Out
  • Desire To Be Alone
  • Loss Of Interest In Things You Normally Enjoy Doing

If you know anything about depression you will recognize many of the above symptoms being associated with that condition as well.  The primary difference in depression and SAD is that SAD will normally have an onset in the late fall and ease in the spring time.  But you don't have to live with these symptoms as your companion for those 4 - 5 months.  There is things you can do to alleviate or significantly reduce the symptoms. 

Supplement your sun.  This can be done in a few different ways.  First and foremost it is import to have your Vitamin D levels checked.  In the summer months being in the sun between 10 AM and 2PM for even a short amount of time can give you up to 20,000 IU of Vit D absorbed through your skin.  But, this time of year, we leave for work or school in the dark and return home in the dark.  The daily recommended dose of Vit D we need, approximately 2,000 IU daily, just isn't going to happen. 

For those suffering with SAD we need to make sure the Vitamin D levels are not just in the normal zone but in the optimum zone so they will get the maximum benefit from this potent vitamin.  This can only accurately be determined by a blood test.

Using light therapy is another way to supplement your sun.  In a controlled trial, 96 patients with SAD were treated with light at 6,000 lux for 1.5 hours in either morning or evening, or with a sham negative ion generator, which was used as the placebo. After three weeks of treatment, morning light produced complete or near-complete remission for 61% of patients, while evening light helped 50%, and placebo helped 32%.

Replacing your light bulbs to full spectrum light at home and in your workplace can make a significant difference.  Full Spectrum Light is actually a marketing term. It has no precise scientific definition, but describes light bulbs that produce light that has desirable qualities that make it simulate natural sunlight.  Like natural daylight, these bulbs produce light that is seen by the human eye in a bluish-white tint. The brightness value of the light is similar to that of daylight.

Get outside and move.  If at all possible the best idea is to get outside if even just 20 minutes a day.  The closer this time is to noon the better chance of you getting your daily dose of sunshine.  Be sure to wear clothing made with "wicking" capabilities so you keep most moisture away from the skin.  Also, remember to dress in layers so as the bodies temperature rises with your movement, even walking, you can shed a layer and stay comfortable. 

AcupunctureIn Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the seasons of the year represent Yin and Yang.  Yin and Yang need to be in harmony to make a whole.  Spring and Summer represent Yang, fall and winter compromise the Yin.  As humans our genetics, gender and lifestyle dictate our Yin and Yang balance.  If we are already excessive in Yin and we enter the Yin seasons it will throw our body even further off kilter causing the symptoms mentioned above.  Acupuncture and a modification of lifestyle can help reduce or eliminate your symptoms as your body comes back into harmony and can shift comfortably with your environment. 

Diet.  Cravings for simple carbohydrates are increased when suffering from the effects of SAD, especially women diagnosed with this form of winter depression have been found to eat more carbohydrates, both sweets and starches, than do healthy women.  According to some research that has been done people with SAD process carbohydrates differently in winter compared with summer.  In an article entitled "Effects of Eating Behavior On Mood" in the International Journal of Eating Disorders it states "Some authorities have speculated that eating simple carbohydrates may be a form of self-medication in people with SAD. A review of the research on diet and mood found that, while eating simple carbohydrates in reaction to depressed mood does bring about a temporary lift in mood."

The importance here is that the consumption of the carbohydrates only brings a temporary lift in the mood.  However, that same candy bar that brought the lift will cause a rebound of depression when the blood sugars drop.  Therefore, maintaining or implementing a diet mixed with protein, complex carbohydrates and vegetables is critical during SAD.

Lastly, and this is important, be flexible and find your winter rhythm.  If you are used to working out in the morning but you find the themometer hanging around 20 degrees, put off the work out until mid-day when it is more likely to be sunny and 10-12 degrees warmer.  If you are used to running but your favorite trail is covered in snow, strap on a pair of snowshoes.  If 60 hour work weeks are your norm, try a couple of 40 hour weeks with a full 8-10 hours of sleep each night.

 A thin broth vegetable beef soup served with a crisp green salad will work better for you than a thick beef stew with gravy.  A warm lemon citrus bath to stimulate the senses will have you feeling much better than another 20 minutes of sleep.  Giving yourself permission to back off a little and enjoy the solitude of winter maybe just what the doctor ordered.  Give yourself permission to flow with the season instead of clawing against it.  Perhaps you will find it is mostly about perspective but if not, let us help.

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