Seasonal Affective Disorder, not so tactfully called SAD, is a mood disorder specific to certain seasons (usually autumn and winter) and fades away after those seasons pass, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The U.S. Library of Medicine states that “some people experience a serious mood change when the seasons change. They may sleep too much, have little energy and may also feel depressed. Though symptoms can be severe, they usually clear up.” SAD is not only specific to the colder months but has been known to produce heightened anxiety in the warmer months as well.
There are many methods to manage S.A.D in a way that best suits your lifestyle. Firstly, and my favorite method, is the use of supplements.
S.A.D affects the body’s production of melatonin, which is crucial for sleep – and lack of sleep will only increase the symptoms. Melatonin 3mg is sold in the aisles of most drug and grocery stores. Take one capsule 30-60 minutes before bed and plan for at least eight hours of sleep.
Low sun exposure is also linked to S.A.D, and therefore, lack of Vitamin D. Like Melatonin, Vitamin D supplements can be found in the vitamin aisle of grocery and drug stores. I personally take a 5,000 IU dosage (Simple Truth brand) because I live in Washington state where sun isn’t always available and I can’t always be outside.
If anxiety becomes a bigger issue during the warmer months, I had a physician recommend gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) 750mg to me because it’s a natural amino acid already present in your body that inhibits the firing of neurons, which leaves you feeling calmer. Amazon sells GABA for pretty good prices. I recommend Source Naturals brand but my physician also recommended Swanson’s.
Another option recommended to me by my mom (who is a nurse) is magnesium supplements to help treat depression. She recommended a dosage between 300-500mg and I began taking it and noticed a difference in about a week. Amazon, drug stores, and grocery stores all sell magnesium supplements. I purchased Sundown Naturals brand from Amazon for a good deal.
Do consider consulting your physician or a nurse about taking these supplements. If you have issues with your digestion or bowels, I would recommend consulting a physician before using magnesium supplements.
Sometimes supplements just aren’t enough to keep you afloat, and that’s where a doctor or psychiatrist may recommend selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Since S.A.D is a seasonal disorder, it might be worth your while to look into medication to only take during the cold months. Taking SSRIs and suddenly stopping can have serious side effects, so make sure you consult with a doctor if you’re thinking about going off them. The supplements listed above can often be taken in conjunction with SSRIs.
One of the most popular treatments for S.A.D is light therapy. You can find ‘happy lights’ online or in some stores that sell housewares. Many people find them to be effective in getting the Vitamin D they need to manage S.A.D, especially when their job may not permit them to see much sunlight. Online, ‘happy lights’ range from $30 to $600 USD. However, if you can find time to spend in the sun, that would be the best option as you’ll naturally produce vitamin D. Remember that the exposure to light, both artificial and sun, without UV protection can increase your risk for skin cancer, so wear sunscreen outside!
Another therapy used to regulate your body is dawn simulation. The theory with dawn simulation is that creating a natural waking state with light will motivate you to wake up and get out of bed. Online, various dawn simulators ranged from $28 to $320 USD. Negative air ionization can be used while you sleep as well to increase the density of negative ions in the air. Amazon has Himalayan salt lamps used to release ions in the air ranging from $14 to $55 USD.
Finally, exercise is shown to improve symptoms of S.A.D. A simple 30 minutes of cardio (even better if it’s outside) can show marked improvement in affect. Exercise combined with all of the other methods mentioned above can be used in conjunction to decrease the symptoms of SAD.
As autumn and winter get closer, look into these management methods so you can be ready to implement them when your S.A.D resurfaces and escape the winter blues.
Published in the Fall 2016 Issue. Read the whole issue for FREE here.