Be H.A.P.P.Y. not S.A.D

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s linked to changes in the season.  Most symptoms begin to present themselves in the Fall and will continue through the Winter.

With a few HACKS, you can reduce or completely avoid SAD and be HAPPY all year!!

Seasonal Affective Disorder

It’s common for most people to go through short periods where they feel down or maybe just a little “off.” These feelings can sometimes be linked to seasonal change. In most cases, people may experience feelings of sadness when the days get shorter in the fall and especially in the winter (also called “winter blues”).

The changes in feelings can be more intense for some and can affect how they feel, think, and manages daily activities. When people notice significant changes in their mood and behavior whenever the seasons change (mainly in Fall and Winter), they may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is a type of depression.

DEPRESSION SYMPTOMS

  • Feeling Depressed Most of the Day
  • Lost Interest in Activities You Once Enjoyed
  • Change in Weight and/or Appetite
  • Difficulty Sleeping
  • Chronic Fatigue and Sluggishness
  • Feeling Hopeless or Worthless
  • Difficulty Concentrating
  • Frequent Thoughts of Death or Suicide

SAD-CONNECTED SYMPTOMS

  • Oversleeping (Hypersomnia)
  • Overeating
  • Craving for Sugar and Carbohydrates
  • Weight Gain
  • Social Withdrawal

 

What Causes SAD?

Although what causes SAD is not yet fully understood, research strongly points to a reduction in the brain chemical (neurotransmitter) serotonin.  Serotonin helps to regulate mood.  It is thought that with the shorter days (less daylight) during the fall and winter months people have less exposure to sunlight.  As our bodies absorb sunlight,  the absorbed sunlight is converted into Vitamin D (average sunlight exposure time to achieve healthy blood levels of Vitamin D is 10-30 minutes 3-4 times per week).  Vitamin D deficiency can lead to increased SAD as Vitamin D is thought to boost serotonin levels.

In addition to the theories of reduced serotonin levels, it is also thought that people with SAD may in fact overproduce melatonin (the hormone that is vital for maintaining healthy sleep/wake cycles).  Changes in melatonin production disrupt normal rhythms, resulting in difficulties adjusting to seasonal changes.

How To Reduce SAD

BE H.A.P.P. Y.

HEALTHY DIET

Harvard Health published the results of a study stating that “A dietary pattern characterized by a high intake of fruit, vegetables, whole grain, fish, olive oil, low-fat dairy and antioxidants and low intakes of animal foods was associated with a decreased risk of depression. A dietary pattern characterized by high consumption of red and/or processed meat, refined grains, sweets, high-fat dairy products, butter, potatoes and high-fat gravy, and low intakes of fruits and vegetables is associated with an increased risk of depression.

ACTIVITY

Regular physical exercise has been PROVEN to help with several types of depression.  Physical activity increases the release of endorphins and endocannabinoids.  Endorphins reduce the sensation of pain and increase the sense of pleasure.  

Have you ever heard of the “runners high?”  The “Runner’s High” is a euphoric feeling that some runners get due to endorphins and endocannabinoids working together after you complete intense physical exercise.

Physical exercise also encourages the release of Dopamine (regulates heart rate, sleep cycles, mood, attention, motivation, memory, learning, and pain processing)

PLAY OUTSIDE

During the fall or winter months, sunlight in some parts of the country is significantly reduced.  With that in mind, when the sun is out, go outside and play, get some sun on your skin, and crank up your Vitamin D levels.  Spend 10-30 minutes with your skin exposed to the sun 3-4 times a week.

PEOPLE

Spend more time with people that bring you joy.  Carve out some time each week/weekend to spend with healthy friends.  Being around people that make you laugh can have a ton of healthy benefits that may significantly improve your mood and reduce symptoms of SAD.  You’ve heard the term “Laughter is the Best Medicine?”  It just might be!!!!

YEAR-END ASSESSMENT

If you suspect that you may have symptoms of SAD, it is important for you to share your thoughts with your primary care provider.  In order for a physician to diagnose SAD, a patient must show that depression occurs at a similar time each year (for a minimum of 2 years) and is followed by periods without depression.  

You should assess your state of mental health at the end of each year (fall) and document your status.  Again, share these notes with your primary care provider.

DIAGNOSIS BY A PRIMARY CARE PROVIDER

It’s always great to have your health assessed at least once a year by your primary care provider.  Effective and open communication with your physician is important for maintaining your health.  If you notice symptoms associated with SAD, share your feelings with your physician as soon as possible.

To help diagnose SAD, your physician may include the following in their evaluation:

  • Physical Exam – Sometimes, depression can be caused by an underlying physical health problem.  Your physician will also ask in-depth questions during their assessment.
  • Lab Tests –   Your provider may want to collect a complete blood count (CBC) to identify any problems that may be causing the SAD symptoms
  • Psychological Evaluation – Your provider may refer you to a mental health professional for a psychological evaluation to assess your symptoms, thoughts, feelings, and behavioral patterns