Seasonal Depression: What it is and How to Help.

7 December 2015
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Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons.  SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months; draining your energy and making you feel moody.

Typically, symptoms progressively worsen throughout the fall and winter months, as the days shorten and exposure to natural daylight lessens.

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Those suffering from SAD feel depressed, irritable, and tired. Their activity levels decrease and they find themselves in bed more often. This depression disorder not only affects their health, but it also affects their everyday life, including their job performance and friendships.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a subtype of major depression.

Symptoms of major depression may be part of SAD, such as:

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Having low energy
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Having problems with sleeping
  • Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

A diagnosis of SAD can be made after three consecutive winters of symptoms if they are also followed by complete remission in the spring and summer months.

Symptoms linked only to SAD (not full depression): http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/sad

  • Depression: misery, guilt, loss of self-esteem, hopelessness, despair, and apathy
  • Anxiety: tension and inability to tolerate stress
  • Moodchanges: extremes of mood, especially dealing with rejection
  • Sleep problems: desire to oversleep and difficulty staying awake or, sometimes, disturbed sleep and early morning waking
  • Irritability: Cranky feelings towards others
  • Lethargy: feeling of fatigue and inability to carry out normal routine
  • Feeling Heavy: The arms and legs feel heavier and harder to utilize
  • Overeating, Appetite Changes, and Weight Gain: craving for starchy and sweet foods resulting in weight gain
  • Socialproblems: irritability and desire to avoid social contact
  • Sexualproblems: loss of libido and decreased interest in physical contact

What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder (Seasonal Depression)?

As sunlight has affected the seasonal activities of animals for as long as we have researched, SAD may be an effect of this seasonal light variation in humans.  Animals hibernate and/or tend to have a change in reproductive cycles, along with diet changes and activity and energy decreases.  There seems to be a shift if the human’s biological internal clock (circadian rhythm) due to the changes in light exposure on a daily basis.  Even though the temperatures are dropping, and many people want to place blame on this changing air, SAD is linked to the lack of daylight and not freezing temperatures.  Sunlight triggers and limits the hormone melatonin, which regulates sleep. An over-supply of melatonin is linked to symptoms of depression. The sleep-related hormone is secreted by the pineal gland in the brain and is produced at increased levels in the dark.  Therefore, when the days are shorter and darker the production of this hormone increases.

The specific cause of seasonal affective disorder remains unknown. Some factors that may come into play include:

  • Your biological clock
  • Melatonin levels
  • Serotonin levels: A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, might play a role in SAD. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression.

Factors that may increase your risk of seasonal affective disorder include: http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/12/11/surprising-facts-about-seasonal-affective-disorder-sad/

  • Being female.SAD is diagnosed more often in women than in men, but men may have more-severe symptoms.
  • The highest probability of experiencing SAD is between the ages of 18-55.
  • Family history.People with SAD may be more likely to have blood relatives with SAD or another form of depression.
  • Having clinical depression or bipolar disorder.Symptoms of depression may worsen seasonally if you have one of these conditions.
  • Living far from the equator.SAD appears to be more common among people who live far north or south of the equator. This may be due to decreased sunlight during the winter and longer days during the summer months.

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Effects of Seasonal Depression

Hypersomnia: Over-Sleeping may sound like a luxury, but in turn, it can wreak havoc on your body.  A domino effect takes place when the body goes into hibernation-mode.

Binge Eating Disorder (BED): Eating pathology in Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) may be more severe than hyperphagia during winter. Although research has documented elevated rates of subclinical binge eating in women with SAD, the prevalence and correlates of BED in SAD remain largely uncharacterized. High rates of co-occurrence between binge eating and SAD suggest that there may be common etiological pathways underlying susceptibility to both conditions. For example, dopamine signaling is hypothesized to affect the emergence of binge eating behavior across various disorders, including SAD and BED. Dopamine is thought to participate in the reinforcement of behaviors such as eating that enhance subjective pleasure. Individual differences in dopamine signaling may promote winter binge eating by strengthening the coupling of palatable foods such as carbohydrates to their hedonic effect. Therefore, it is possible that abnormalities in dopaminergic processing may increase risk for binge eating in both SAD and BED. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4019042/

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Treating and Preventing SAD

http://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad.htm

Knowing that you are at risk and how to help, will ease the stress of the months ahead.

Chiropractic Care: Those suffering from SAD can greatly benefit from chiropractic treatment. Due to emotional, physical and mental stress caused by Seasonal Affective Disorder, many patients have unfortunately triggered misalignments in their spine. Chiropractic care is a drug-free, natural approach to treat those with SAD by bringing the spine back into alignment and improving the function of the whole body. When the spinal joints are aligned and working properly, the brain is able to communicate effectively and efficiently with the entire body. In addition to pain resumption, proper alignment of the spine helps to improve sleep function, mood and energy which often affect SAD patients.

Vitamin D:  Multiple studies and ample research all prove that VitaminD drops drastically during the fall and winter months.  With this drop, the body’s immune system is at risk for illness, major depression, and seasonal affective disorder.  One study shows that a group of individuals suffering from SAD benefitted more from increasing their Vitamin D supplements than from the photo light therapy. “All subjects receiving vitamin D improved in all outcome measures. The phototherapy group showed no significant change in depression scale measures. Vitamin D status improved in both groups (74% vitamin D group, p < 0.005 and 36% phototherapy group, p < 0.01). Improvement in 25-OH D was significantly associated with improvement in depression scale scores (r2=0.26; p=0.05).” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10888476

Light Therapy: Effectiveness of phototherapy is showed in nearly all controlled studies. Bright light appears to be most effective for patients with mild SAD.  One study shows significant differences found when comparing the scores after the baseline with the three-onlight exposures using the repeat light therapy. Depression scores after 40 minutes of light were lower than after 20 minutes http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2913518/ and http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18053580

Himalayan Salt Lamps: Our air contains an abundance of positive ions. Anything that is electrically charged contains positive ions; computer screens, televisions, telephones, etc. are all sources of positive ions in the air. Research shows that positive ions can cause feelings of lethargy, fatigue, and even depression. There are natural sources that increase positive ions as well, such as full moons, which accounts for the strange and aggressive behavior noted by medical services and police. Studies show that 75% of the population is noticeably and adversely affected by positive ion ratios. Salt lamps can help bring emotional balance into our lives because they generate negative ions, which help us to feel more energized and uplifted. In fact, rock salt crystal is known as one of the most efficient emitters of negative ions. Generally, the more negative ions you are exposed to, the better you feel!

Specific Salt Lamps for Seasonal Depression:  (In coordination with the blue light therapy)

Get Outside: Whenever possible, get outside during daylight hours and expose yourself to the sun without wearing sunglasses (but never stare directly at the sun).

  • Take a short walk outdoors or have your coffee outside if you can stay warm enough.
  • Increase the amount of natural light in your home and workplace by opening blinds and drapes and sitting near windows.
  • Some people find that painting walls in lighter colors or using daylight simulation bulbs also helps combat winter SAD.

Exercise: Regular exercise is a powerful way to fight seasonal depression, especially if you’re able to exercise outside in natural daylight.  http://www.helpguide.org/articles/exercise-fitness/emotional-benefits-of-exercise.htm

  • Regular exercise can boost serotonin, endorphins, and other feel-good brain chemicals. In fact, exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication.
  • Exercise can also help to improve your sleep and boost your self-esteem.
  • Aim for 30 to 60 minutes of activity on most days. Even something as simple as walking a dog, for example, can be good exercise for you and the animal, as well as a great way to get outdoors and interact with other people.

Ask for Support: Close relationships are vital in reducing isolation and helping you manage SAD. Participate in social activities, even if you don’t feel like it. It may feel more comfortable to retreat into your shell, but being around other people will boost your mood. Even if you’ve retreated from relationships that were once important to you, make the effort to reconnect or start new relationships.

  • Call or email an old friend to meet for coffee. Or reach out to someone new—a work colleague or neighbor, for example. Most of us feel awkward about reaching out, but be the one to break the ice.
  • Join a support group for depression. Sometimes, just talking about what you’re going through can help you feel better. Being with others who are facing the same problems can help reduce your sense of isolation and provide inspiration to make positive changes.
  • Meet new people with a common interest by taking a class, joining a club, or enrolling in a special interest group that meets on a regular basis. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s something that’s fun for you.
  • Volunteer your time. Helping others is one of the best ways to feel better about yourself, expand your social network, and overcome SAD.

Diet: Eating small, well-balanced meals throughout the day, with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, will help you keep your energy up and minimize mood swings.

  • While the symptoms of SAD can make you crave sugary foods and simple carbohydrates, such as pasta and white bread, complex carbohydrates are a better choice. Foods such as oatmeal, whole grain bread, brown rice, and bananas can boost your feel-good serotonin levels without the subsequent sugar crash.  Even better, cut gluten from your diet.  If you are still struggling, try to cut dairy as well.
  • Foods rich in certain omega-3 fats—such as oily fish, walnuts, soybeans, and flaxseeds—can also improve your mood and may even boost the effectiveness of antidepressant medication.

Destress: Whatever the time of year, too much stress can exacerbate or even trigger depression. Figure out the things in your life that stress you out, such as work overload or unsupportive relationships, and make a plan to avoid them or minimize their impact.

  • Practicing daily relaxation techniques can help you manage stress, reduce negative emotions such as anger and fear, and boost feelings of joy and well-being. Try yoga, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation.
  • Do something you enjoy every day. Having fun is a great stress buster, so make time for leisure activities that bring you joy, whether it be painting, playing the piano, working on your car, or simply hanging out with friends.

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