Coping with S.A.D.
by Amy Langone, Head Trainer, Master Trainer with Home Bodies and Owner of a Pilates Studio
As we move toward the autumn and winter months, we all can experience changes in mood and energy; the days are getting shorter and colder, the kids go back to school, its back to the same old grind and another fun and sunny summer has come and gone. For some, these feelings can become more pronounced than just your average "winter blues". Before we can discuss how we can prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder, let's learn more about it first.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression which can occur during certain months of the year. Most commonly it's observed during the fall and winter months, but it can occur during any season. Below 10% of Americans are affected by SAD.
The Risk Factors
Studies have shown that being female, living far from the equator, and a family history of other types of depression can all be risk factors for developing SAD. However, though more women develop SAD, men tend to have more severe symptoms when it does occur.
The Possible Causes
Low Vitamin D Levels: Individuals low in vitamin D often experience symptoms in line with depression and SAD. Vitamin D is produced by the body when exposed to sunlight, and given the lower levels of sunlight exposure many experience during the winter, low vitamin D levels could be to blame for many of the symptoms of SAD.
Circadian rhythm: The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may disrupt your body's internal clock, which lets you know when you should sleep or when you should be awake. This disruption may lead to feelings of depression.
Low Melatonin Levels: Melatonin is a hormone that plays a role in sleep patterns and in your mood. Melatonin is created by the body during the darker hours of the day; it causes you to feel drowsy and lowers your body temperature, preparing you for sleep.
Serotonin Levels: Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, or chemical in the brain, that affects mood. Reduced sunlight can lead to a drop in serotonin, which can lead to depression.
Depression, anxiety, loss of energy, social withdrawal, oversleeping, an increased craving for carbohydrates, and weight gain all can be symptoms of SAD.
What to do about it?
First, if you or someone you know seems to have these symptoms, contact a doctor. There are many things we can do to combat feelings of depression. What's great is that most of these tips go hand in hand with weight loss and strength building goals.
*Since low levels of vitamin D are a suspected cause of SAD, make sure that you are getting a few minutes of sunshine each day, even during the winter. A lunch time walk, even if it's cold out, will allow the skin to absorb some vitamin D (the little skin you're able to expose in a New England winter!). The fresh air and brightness will help to elevate your mood, and you won't feel like you live in a cave!
*Exercise has been shown to improve sleep quality. Getting in a good workout most days of the week will help you to keep your sleep patterns more regular.
*Avoid caffeine and other stimulants in the latter half of the day. Many of us have such busy lives that we sometimes need that kick of caffeine in the afternoon. A better way to remedy the mid-afternoon drowsiness is to break the cycle and start correcting sleep pattern issues from the root.
*Avoid watching TV before bedtime. When you are tired, turn off the TV, go to the bedroom and turn off the lights. While some say that TV and reading help them fall asleep, many experience the opposite. You may end up staying awake longer than you intended to catch the end of a show or to make it to the end of a chapter.
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