A Blog For Those Affected By Environmental And Invisible Illnesses Written By Fellow Survivors
Be prepared for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
We're rapidly approaching September and the end of summer now and it's around this time that the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, with the approrpiate acronym of S.A.D generally start to make themselves felt. Some suffering from the condition may start to notice them as early as the middle of August.
To avoid symptoms becoming unbearable it is best to start proven treatments as soon as possible and for best results it is often a good idea to use different approaches in combination.
I myself suffer very badly from S.A.D and until I realised what the problem was I suffered deep despair and suicidal urges through the autumn and winter. Thankfully I discovered things that helped and now I no longer feel a sense of dread as this time of year approaches.
So let's take a brief look at what you can do to stave off S.A.D and milder feelings of sadness and lack of motivation during the winter months commonly referred to as 'The Winter Blues' or 'The Blahs':
Maximise Exposure to Natural Light
S.A.D is thought to be triggered by a lack of sunlight during winter months which interferes with the production of various hormones and neurotransmitters and the times that they are produced. The most important of these seem to be melatonin, a hormone which is produced at night and induces sleep, and serotonin, a close chemical cousin of melatonin and a major neurotransmitter in the regulation of mood.
To counter the reduced hours of daylight during the winter and its effects on your body clock it's advisable to wake up at dawn and get to bed at a reasonable hour in the evening. Our bodies evolved with this pattern and in some people particularly have not adapted too well to the 24 hour lifestyle of the 21st Century! It is also a good idea to spend as much time outdoors as possible. If you are indoors all day this will only worsen the symptoms of S.A.D.
Before I knew I suffered from S.A.D I would be in bed until lunch time many days and not go to bed at night until 2am. My body clock was severely out of sync. As soon as I began waking up at 8-9am and getting to bed around 10-11pm my symptoms improved remarkably. I still notice changes in my mood through the season but I no longer enter a deep and dark depression during the winter months.
Use a Lightbox
For a long time the first line treatment for S.A.D has been the use of lightboxes. This treatment is also known as 'bright light therapy. You need to sit in front of a lightbox which provides 10,000 lux (a measure of brightness) for around 30 minutes every day, either in the morning or afternoon depending on what you find to work best. Some people find they need may need slightly longer periods of treatment and some require treatment in both the morning and afternoon. You'll need to experiment to find what works best for you. Research has shown however that bright light therapy using lightboxes of 10,000 lux is highly effective in relieving the symptoms of S.A.D, particularly lack of motivation.
Lightboxes are widely available on the internet and although the initial outlay may seem quite expensive the cost of treatment over the long run is very affordable.
Vitamin D Supplements
During the summer months our skin produces sufficient amounts of vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. In winter however when we don't get this exposure and the sunlight is less intense our vitamin D stores can run low. Vitamin D has deficiency has been implicated in S.A.D as it is actually a powerful hormone-like chemical which has a profound effect on many mood regulating chemicals including melatonin, serotonin and adrenal hormones. Double-blind, placebo-controlled studies have found that between 400iu and 800iu of vitamin D in supplement form can help brought improvement in S.A.D patients. Some studies even found it to be as effective as bright light therapy. It is therefore well worth taking a vitamin D supplement of up to 800iu starting now and continuing through until the spring.
As mentioned earlier melatonin is the hormone which has a major role in the regulation of sleep. It is thought that people affected by S.A.D produce melatonin at the wrong times of day, for example they produce too much during the day making them feel tired, sleepy and sluggish. Research has shown that by taking around 2mg of melatonin 2-3 hours before the desired bed time, S.A.D sufferers can shift their melatonin levels back to normal so that daytime levels return to normal and energy levels and mood improve. Excessive daytime melatonin suppresses vitamin D levels which further contributes to the symptoms of S.A.D so combined melatonin and vitamin D treatment may work well for some.
Use an Ioniser
An ioniser is a device which gives molecules in the air a negative charge. It is known that the air in summer natural contains a higher concentration of negative ions and researchers have linked a lack of these ions in winter both to low serotonin lvels in the brain and low mood associated with S.A.D. Studies have in fact shown that Ionisers are comparable in effectiveness to bright light therapy in the treatment of S.A.D. The obvious advantage of this therapy is that it doesn't require the effort that bright light therapy does. You can simply have an ioniser running throughout the night in your bedroom and move it about the house when you are at home. Ionisers also tend to be much cheaper than lightboxes.
There are many nutrients and herbs that have been shown to be effective in the treatment of depression and these can also be useful for S.A.D. Some of these include 5-HTP, St. John's Wort, SAMe, and Omega-3 fatty acids. They may be helpful either alone or in combination with the other treatment options discussed.
See my blog discussing 'Natural Alternatives to Antidepressant Medications'
The key to successfully staving off the worst of your S.A.D symptoms through the winter is to start early with the measures and treatments outlined here. Delaying only lets the symptoms get established and then it is much harder to motivate yourself to do anything about it. So get started now and enjoy a H.A.P.P.Y rather than S.A.D autumn and winter!
For more detailed information of S.A.D and it's treatment please visit the following pages: