Seasonal Affective Disorder
Winter is a beloved time for many. Cold, crisp days and nights; sports that come once a year such as skiing, snowboarding, sledding and ice skating; hearty soups and casserole dishes to warm your insides; and holidays. Despite the many positives associated with the change in seasons there are downsides: bleak dreary days that sap your motivation and make it difficult to go outside or even exercise. Do you find yourself wanting to stay inside watching movies and eating anything and everything in sight? Think again before you pass this behavior off as just having the “winter blues.” It could be a form of a re-occurring depressive disorder known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD comes and goes as the seasons change and usually begins in late fall through winter. It’s estimated this disorder affects eleven million people in the United States. Spring and summer, the happier seasons, rarely result in depressive behaviors. The sun shines brightly, the days last longer and people spend more time outdoors. While the exact causes are unknown, it is believed that the light changes impacting the body’s sleep cycle, melatonin levels and serotonin levels are the main contributors.
Diagnosis and Treatment For someone to be diagnosed with SAD, they must meet the full criteria for major depression coupled with either summer or winter months. Some of the symptoms include appetite changes, fatigue, irritability, excess sleepiness and restlessness. There are different types of treatment: medication, light therapy and vitamin D supplementation. Medications prescribed belong to a class of antidepressants known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI). Winter is a time of decreased daylight. Light therapy is used to help make up this deficit and has been shown to be up to sixty percent effective among those with SAD. There are apps and standard light boxes that simulate real light. Most studies find using them for at least thirty minutes in the morning produces the best results. As for diet, aim to increase vitamin D-rich foods during the months with less sunlight. Foods rich in selenium, vitamin D, folate and calcium such as fatty fish, poultry, Brazil nuts, mushrooms, beans, eggs, and green vegetables, including spinach, kale, cabbage and broccoli, can help manage some of the depression associated with SAD.
Bottom Line: Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real condition. Don’t let the changing seasons keep you down and depressed. Seek medical care as needed. Rely on eating foods first and seek supplementation from your healthcare professional when needed. Consider relaxation and calming activities such as meditation and breathing. Make walking a part of your winter activity routine; something as small as going outside in the sunlight for a few minutes daily can greatly improve your mood by releasing endorphins and giving you the boost you need.
Written by: Tiffany Tanksley, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern