Friday, October 21, 2005

What is seasonal affective disorder and depression? - By Diana Maree

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is the clinical name for cloudy day blues, and it can have serious effect on the lives of sufferers. Read these suggestions to keep wintertime depression under control.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is the clinical name for "the winter blahs." More than just a "down" feeling, it is a form of depression that descends on its victims in the dark, winter months. Triggered by a decrease in daylight hours, it's more prevalent in the northern parts of the world, in those countries most impacted by the rotation of the earth in relationship to the sun. Generally, symptoms appear in late fall, worsen through the holiday months, (possibly aggravated by seasonal celebrations of those around them), and lessen when the springtime sunshine reappears. Most sufferers report no complaints from late spring through the early fall.

Symptoms are similar to those of clinical depression, but disappear when the sun shines again. Sufferers find themselves wanting to hibernate, avoid contact with people, sleep either too much or too little, gorge on carbohydrates. Unplanned weight losses or gains are common, as is generalized ennui and fatigue; SAD sufferers frequently find their thought processes foggy and have to force themselves to exercise, go outside their homes, and maintain daily routines.

If you find yourself feeling more blue on overcast days, followed by a brighter disposition when the sun breaks through again, you may be among the millions dealing with SAD. Some people are so severely afflicted they've found it necessary to relocate, to move to a climate with mild, sunny winters, to maintain a normal disposition. Others, who are able to adjust their lifestyles to accommodate multiple residences, find relief by becoming "snowbirds." During the winter months living in the southern hemisphere, and returning north to avoid the equatorial heat.

If you have to stay where you are, and that happens to be a region with a gloomy winter season, you can take steps to "bloom where you are planted." Here are some important things you can do to minimize the SAD disruption in your life.

First, check with your doctor to determine if you are facing a physical problem that has depression as a side effect. He may recommend medication as wintertime boost. (This should be no more discomfiting than if you were given a prescription for vitamins to compensate for an iron deficiency.)

Then take a look at some of these self-care tools you can use to keep the deep doldrums at bay.


Light therapy has tremendous impact on SAD. Studies have shown that fluorescent light boxes can simulate daylight well enough to relieve SAD in many mild to moderate cases. The most effective amount seems to be 2500 lux of white light for two hours per day, although some studies demonstrate that 10,000 lux for half an hour a day may work just as well. A light box can be purchased from medical suppliers, or, if you're handy with tools, made at home. A search on the web will lead you to places to purchase them or to directions for building your own.

Light boxes may be covered by your medical insurance if a physician prescribes them. Do check with your provider to be sure.

To increase the amount of light in your home, replace your normal light bulbs with full spectrum ones. Available from medical supply houses, photographic supply sources and sometimes from chain departmetn stores, these are available in many wattages, as fluorescent or standard, and made to fit most fixtures, either as screw in bulbs or fluorescent tubes.

Use white or pastel colors on your walls. A light, bright room helps to lift moods more than, for example, a paneled den.

Allow as much daylight into your home as you can; keep drapes and curtains open except at night.


Carbohydrates seem to intensify the sluggishness of a depressive, so even though winter menus historically call for rich soups and other heavy foods, be careful to balance them with fruits, vegetables, and extra proteins.


Some studies show that a half an hour of exercise every day is at least as effective as medication in fighting off depression. To keep yourself motivated, find a friend who will commit to joining you for a daily walk, think about exercise as a reward for your body rather than an unpleasant task, and find a way of exercising that you enjoy. Walking, swimming, and dancing appeal to some more than aerobics or weight lifting.


Journal keeping and meditation can be helpful in identifying stress factors in your life that contribute to sadness. Use these tools to become more conscious of times that you avoid speaking what's really on your mind, find yourself headed in a direction you don't want to go, or are involved in unhealthy relationships.


Talking over your feelings with a counselor can help you get a grip on what's going on at the sub-conscious level, and to identify patterns of coping that may not be in your best interest. Group therapy can put you in touch with others experiencing SAD; there, you can share productive ways of dealing with your blues and learn, too, that you are not alone, or "crazy." Therapy sessions also make you get yourself dressed and out of the house.


When the fog of depression attacks, maintaining a routine becomes both crucial and difficult. This is not the time to forego regular haircuts, to cancel lunch dates, or quit your job. While it's not a good idea to overload yourself with NEW commitments in the midst of a depressive episode, neither is it the time make major life changes or abandon connections with healthy habits and people.

What can work is to create time for self indulgence. Snuggling up in a blanket with a good book in front of the fireplace, for example, or going on a weekend retreat, nourishes our spirits without pushing our limits to cope.

Making copies of an "everyday" to-do list helps to keep the focus on well-being; include such things as taking vitamins, using your light box, journaling, going for a walk, making contact with other people, eat lunch, eat dinner--all important facets of healthy living that are easily forgotten by sufferers of any form of depression, including Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Written by Diana Maree - © 2002 Pagewise


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