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If you or someone you know has been feeling moody, tired, depressed, anxious, the autumn blahs, winter blues, or winter worries, you or they could be experiencing SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). SAD is a type of anxiety, sadness or depression that occurs at the same time of the year on a recurring basis. Symptoms often begin in the fall as the daylight hours shorten (often in October or November) and continue into the winter months (ending in January or February). Less frequently, SAD can be experienced by some in the spring with the lengthening of daylight hours (around April) and continues through the summer.
Symptoms of Fall/Winter SAD may include the following:
- Feeling depressed, sad, anxious, moody, lacking energy
- Sleeping more and still feeling tired
- Loss of interest in usual activities
- Craving for carbohydrates like pasta and bread
- Weight gain or loss
- Difficulty concentrating and processing information at work or school
Factors that may be related to SAD:
- Your biological clock (circadian rhythm). Having less sunlight in fall and winter may confuse your body’s internal clock, which signals when you should be awake or asleep. This disruption of your circadian rhythm may lead to feelings of depression.
- Melatonin levels. The change in season can disrupt the balance of the natural hormone melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.
- Serotonin levels. Reduced levels of sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood. Too little serotonin can cause depression and anxiety.
Risk factors that may increase your risk of SAD include:
- Being female. Some studies show that SAD is diagnosed more often in women than in men, but that men may have more severe symptoms.
- 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 the longer days of summer.
- Family history/environment. Depression and anxiety syndromes (including SAD) can run in families. Genetics is believed to play a role in some and environmental factors also can be a huge factor. During fall and winter months there are more family gatherings due to holidays (Thanksgiving, Hanukah, and Christmas) and severe weather can cause more confinement of families indoors for extended periods of time. Family can be supportive and positive- or some family members can be negative and draining (Energy Vampires). We can buy into the negative energy of the people around us; or we can choose to transform the negativity and rise above it (this is what our Shift book series SHIFT: 12 Keys to Shift Your Life and Shift: A Woman’s Guide to Transformation was designed to assist with).
Treatments for SAD:
1. Exercises For The Mind and Body:
- Move! Walk, run, bike, or go to the gym. Any physical activity should help move your energy (externally and internally) and the more often you get off the sofa or chair the better.
- Practice yoga, tai chi, or qigong. Dance around the room in figure 8’s, and/or wave your arms and move your hips in figure 8’s. Do the ‘3 Thumps’ every morning (see our demonstration videos).
- Use Qigong Emotional Release or EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) to tap for your symptoms of sadness or anxiety (watch our Qigong Emotional Release and our EFT demonstration videos if you need to learn the procedure or tapping points).
- Meditate or use guided imagery (our guided meditation CDs are designed to assist) to diminish sense of abandonment, powerlessness, feeling unlovable, fear of the unknown, heartache, guilt, shame, anger or resentment. Massage therapy or acupuncture to free stuck or excess energy in your meridians can also be helpful.
2. Light therapy: When practicing Light Therapy (also call Phototherapy) you either go outside during bright daylight hours or sit a few feet from a specialized light therapy box or full spectrum light, so that you’re exposed to bright light that mimics sunlight. We like “The Happy Light” (10,000 Lux).
- Artificial light therapy mimics outdoor light (must include a full spectrum of light) and appears to cause a change in brain chemicals linked to mood by stimulating the pineal gland. This treatment is easy to use and seems to have few side effects. Certain hardware stores such as Lowes or Home Depot have full light spectrum lamps in the garden section. You don’t have to spend a fortune… to feel or see the light.
- Dawn simulation is another light treatment, a dim light goes on in the morning while you sleep, and it gets brighter over time, like a sunrise.
3. Organic Dark Chocolate: That’s right! Taking 2 squares of organic dark chocolate 2 hours before bedtime can actually assist you with creating your OWN Melatonin, lowering Cortisol, and boosting Serotonin levels! It is important that it be dark chocolate (NOT milk chocolate) and NO added sugary ingredients. Look for the organic 77% (or more) Cacao dark chocolate. You will sleep better and during sleep we repackage our neurotransmitters.
4. Medications: Some people with seasonal affective disorder benefit from treatment with antidepressants, especially if symptoms are severe. They include:
- Serotonin Specific Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) Antidepressants. Antidepressants commonly used to treat seasonal affective disorder include paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft), fluoxetine (Prozac, Sarafem), fluvoxamine (Luvox), citalopram (Celexa), and escitalopram (Lexapro). SSRI medications address the symptoms of depression and anxiety with associated insomnia, excessive worry, and decreased appetite.
- Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitor (NRI) Antidepressants (Bupropion). An extended-release version of the antidepressant bupropion (Wellbutrin SR or XL) may help prevent depressive episodes in people with a history of seasonal affective disorder. NRI medication is helpful for depressive symptoms with associated low energy level, poor motivation, and increased sleep.
- Serotonin and Norepinephrine Reuptake (SNRI) Antidepressants. Medications in this class include venlafaxine (Effexor, Effexor XR), duloxetine (Cymbalta), and desvenlafaxine (Pristiq). SNRI medications address the symptoms of depression and anxiety with associated excessive worry, low energy level, and poor motivation.4. Counseling:
5. Counseling (individual, marital or family) is another option to treat SAD. Psychotherapy (cognitive behavioral, insight-oriented, brief solution-oriented) can help you identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors that may be contributing to depression or anxiety. You can also learn healthy ways to cope with SAD and manage stress.5.
6. Nutritional and dietary supplements used to treat mild depression/anxiety or poor concentration/focus symptoms of SAD include:
- St. John’s wort. This herb has traditionally been used to treat mild depression and anxiety. Be sure you are taking a pharmaceutical grade and that it does not conflict with medications you may be taking.
- SAMe. This is a synthetic form of a chemical that occurs naturally in the body. SAMe hasn’t been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat depression in the United States. However, it is used in Europe as a prescription drug to treat depression.
- Melatonin. This natural hormone helps regulate mood. A change in the season may change the level of melatonin in your body. Some people try taking melatonin supplements, but discuss this with your health care provider first before doing so as it may be contraindicated with certain medications.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements have been shown to relieve mild depression or anxiety symptoms in some studies. Sources of omega-3s include fatty, cold-water fish, such as salmon, mackerel and herring. Flaxseed, flax oil and walnuts also contain omega-3 fatty acids, and small amounts are found in soybean and canola oils.
- Huperzine. Huperzine-A is a plant alkaloid derived from the Chinese club moss plant, Huperzia serrata (a member of the Lycopodium species). In China, huperzine extract has been used for centuries to treat various ailments such as swelling, fever and blood disorders. During the past few years, Huperzine has been studied extensively for its potential in treating dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease. By reducing the activity of acetylcholinesterase, Huperzine A may help to reduce the breakdown of acetylcholine and may help preserve or even restore memory. While recent studies have shown that taking Huperzine A may help to relieve dementia symptoms and appears to enhance general mental functioning (poor concentration and focus) when it was taken consistently for as little as one month; more research is needed before Huperzine A can be recommended for either dementia or general memory improvement.
6. Additional tools and techniques (specific meditations, energy medicine techniques, qigong exercises, stress reduction tips, etc) for transforming SAD or other obstacles, situations or circumstances which might be causing you to feel ‘stuck’ can be found in our best-selling books titled Bye-Bye Self-Sabotage, SHIFT: 12 Keys to Shift your Life and Shift: A Woman’s Guide to Transformation by Tracy Latz, M.D. and Marion Ross, Ph.D. (available on Amazon in hardback, paperback and on Kindle), videos, DVDs and CDs. In short, you do not have to silently suffer with SAD.
It is important to know that SAD is a real, defined issue for a large number of people and that professional help is available and should be consulted if you become suicidal or consistently feel that life is not worth living. Severe depression should be taken seriously as it can be a life-threatening illness. Help is available if you find your self in a deep dark hole from which you cannot escape- contact your primary care physician, local mental health center, local hospital, therapist, psychiatrist, or pastoral counselor for further assistance.
About the authors:
Tracy Latz, M.D, M.S., Mh.D. is a highly respected Integrative Psychiatrist with over 20 years of clinical experience in treating SAD, depression, anxiety and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Dr. Latz is a gifted speaker, teacher, seminar leader, metaphysician, author, intuitive, and has served on associate clinical faculty with the Department of Psychiatry at the Wake Forest University Medical School. She is Board-Certified in General Psychiatry, holds certifications in Mind-Body Medicine from NICABM, Medical Qigong, holistic healing, and is currently in private practice in Mooresville, North Carolina.
Marion Ross, Ph.D, Mh.D. is a transpersonal psychologist, metaphysician, holistic healer, author, and holds Mind-Body Medicine certification from NICABM. She has successful private practices in France and the U.S.
**The Shift Doctors (Tracy Latz, M.D. & Marion Ross, Ph.D.) are available for keynote talks, classes, events or for seminars (1/2 day or up to 2 day) on personal transformation, team-building, motivation, anger management, intuitive development, or collaboration for private groups, conferences, corporations or corporate events. Contact them at email@example.com or find out more about them at www.shiftyourlife.com .