6 Tips for Overcoming Seasonal Affective Disorder

By Jennifer Scott

If you’re feeling low and find yourself counting down the days until spring, you may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It’s a cyclical form of depression typically affecting people in the fall and winter seasons. People who suffer from SAD often experience increased sleepiness, decreased energy, a loss of interest in activities that the person usually enjoys, increased appetite, and difficulties with focus and concentration.

People with SAD are unable to “just snap out of it,” as family and friends may suggest to them. There are, however, a number of tips that can help you overcome SAD. Here’s a look at a few.

Focus on Consistency Through the Transition

6 Tips for Overcoming Seasonal Affective DisorderIf you’re feeling depressed, some find it helpful to focus on the things that remain consistent even as the seasons change. Even little things such as the fact that you get a shower each morning, your roles in life (as a parent, spouse, child, or sibling), or the town in which you live can be effective in helping you feel grounded.

Get Out and About and Active

According to LiveScience, a 2007 study by researchers at Duke University found that exercise can produce similar results as medication for patients with major depressive disorders such as SAD. While you may not feel like leaving the house, forcing yourself to get outdoors and take a brisk walk or adopting a more strenuous exercise regimen can help to alleviate symptoms. And if you have a four-legged friend, be sure to bring them along. New studies are showing just how beneficial our pets can be for our health. Spending some extra time with your pooch at the dog park or taking them on a walk around the neighborhood can help boost your mood and reduce stress.

Get the Right Amount of Sleep

Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule is one of the most important things you can do to overcome the symptoms of SAD. That’s because both too much sleep and too little sleep can have detrimental effects on your mood and overall well-being. Many people with SAD experience increased fatigue in the winter, but sleeping for an extra few hours each day can have the opposite effect, actually leading to more feelings of depression and exhaustion. At the same time, you do want to ensure that you’re getting the seven to eight hours of sleep most people need to thrive.

Take Vitamin D Supplements

You should always check with your physician before taking any vitamins, minerals, or herbal supplements, but an added daily dose of Vitamin D can be an effective way to overcome the symptoms of SAD. Sunlight helps the body produce its own Vitamin D, so people with SAD often have a Vitamin D deficiency during the winter which contributes to fatigue and other symptoms. A simple daily Vitamin D supplement can help combat these issues.

Get Plenty of Exercise

Exercise has endless benefits, especially for those suffering from SAD. It can boost your mood, reduce chronic pain, and even help you sleep better. Whether you reignite your passion for a sport you loved in high school, join a gym, or try something new like Zumba or yoga, find an activity you enjoy and make it part of your routine. Making your exercise regimen an activity you’ll actually look forward to will increase the chances you’ll stick to it. Enlist a dependable workout buddy to keep you motivated and focused; besides, it’s way more fun to train with a partner cheering you on!

Understand the Benefits of Light Therapy

Depression is closely linked to serotonin levels in the brain, and light can actually affect the receptors in the brain that produce serotonin, thus leading to SAD as levels become lower during the winter months. Those who suffer from SAD often experience relief from symptoms through light therapy, or exposure to artificial light produced by a light box for 30 minutes or more each day, depending on the length of time your doctor recommends.

SAD has a substantial impact on daily functioning, but it doesn’t have to take control of your life. These tips will help you overcome the sadness, fatigue, and other symptoms of SAD that plague you during the fall and winter months.

Jennifer Scott has experienced anxiety and depression since she was a teen. With SpiritFinder.org, she hopes to share her story with others and in doing so empower them to take steps to improve their overall wellbeing. In her free time, she loves to write, spend time with animals, and is always up for an adventure.

**PHOTO CREDIT: Image via Flickr by Emily**

Seasonal Affective Disorder: Diet and Lifestyle Interventions

By Anne Danahy, MS, RD, LDN

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of mood disorder or depression, which occurs consistently in the fall and winter, and resolves in the spring and summer. Symptoms of SAD include:

  • Feeling sad, anxious, or “empty”
  • Irritability
  • Loss of interest in activities you usually enjoy
  • Fatigue
  • Decreased energy
  • Heavy, leaden feeling in arms or legs
  • Changes in weight, especially weight gain
  • Changes in appetite, usually an increased craving for carbohydrate foods

Risk Factors:

Seasonal Affective DisorderIt is estimated that SAD affects nearly one half million Americans each year, with women more likely to suffer from seasonal depression than men, and younger adults more at risk than older adults. Those who live furthest from the equator are more likely to experience SAD.

Research suggests that SAD is triggered by a reduction in the amount of sunlight or daylight, which upsets the body’s natural clock. A change in seasons can affect production of the hormone melatonin, which plays a part in regulating sleep and mood. Reduced exposure to sunlight can also negatively impact production of the serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood.

Although diet and sedentary lifestyle are not risk factors for developing SAD, studies on depression suggest that those with diets low in certain nutrients, such as vitamin D and omega-3 fats, may be at greater risk for depression, and symptoms often improve when intake of these nutrients is increased. Additionally, individuals who eat a diet high in refined carbohydrates and/or lead a sedentary lifestyle may experience worse symptoms associated with SAD, especially weight gain, lack of energy, and fatigue.

What You Can Do:

While symptoms of SAD are generally minor for most, anyone who suffers from depression is advised to see their doctor to rule out any serious behavioral health issues. Studies have shown that light therapy (sitting next to a special light box which mimics the sun), is an effective treatment for SAD for many people. For those with more severe symptoms, your doctor may recommend an antidepressant or cognitive behavioral therapy. In addition, the following diet and lifestyle modifications may be helpful:

  • Increase your intake of omega-3 fats from salmon, sardines or other fatty fish, grass-fed beef, walnuts, flax seeds, soybeans, and enriched eggs. Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in brain health. Although most studies examine their effect on mood disorders and other types of depression, several reviews of population studies, including those in Finland and Iceland, showed a negative association between fish eating and depression, including seasonal depression. In addition, researchers have found an association between lower plasma omega-3 levels and depression, and improvements in depression when subjects received supplemental doses.
  • Make sure you get adequate vitamin D by exposing your face and arms to sunlight for 10 minutes each day, eating fatty fish, eggs, and fortified milk, and taking a vitamin D supplement if necessary. Vitamin D plays many important roles in the body, and studies have found a negative association with depression. In a study that examined the effects of adding vitamin D to antidepressant treatment in subjects with major depressive disorder, researchers found that adding 1 500 international units (IU) of vitamin D to treatment was superior in treating depression. Although much research has established an association between low levels of vitamin D and higher likelihood of SAD, studies on the benefits of using vitamin D supplements alone to treat SAD have been inconsistent.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet that includes several servings of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy foods, fish, and lean proteins. Plant foods especially have beneficial nutrients and phytochemicals that may play a role in regulating mood, body, and brain health. In a review of 21 studies that compared dietary patterns to depression, Lei et al found that individuals with low intake of fruits and vegetables had higher odds of depression. The researchers also noted that although it has been difficult to establish the role of individual nutrients in preventing or treating depression, it may be possible that the various nutrients contributed by an overall “healthy diet” act synergistically to prevent depression.
  • Choose complex carbohydrates over refined carbs. One of the symptoms of SAD is an increased craving for carbohydrate foods. Unfortunately, filling up on sweets, pasta, and other refined carbohydrate foods causes a spike in blood glucose and insulin levels, and often leads to weight gain and fatigue. In addition, research from the Women’s Health Initiative found that higher glycemic index foods actually contribute to depression, especially in postmenopausal women. Choosing more high fiber, whole-grain carbohydrates such as oatmeal, brown rice, farro, or whole-wheat pastas helps to regulate glucose levels, and supplies a steady supply of lower calorie energy throughout the day.
  • Aim for exercise most days of the week. In addition to helping to prevent winter weight gain, regular aerobic exercise, for at least 30 minutes each day has been shown to improve mood and reduce both major depression and seasonal affective disorder. Exercising outside in sunlight has been shown to have even greater benefits.

Source: http://www.nutrition411.com/articles/seasonal-affective-disorder-diet-and-lifestyle-interventions

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