What You Should Know About Seasonal Affective Disorder
If you’re feeling a little down lately, you’re not alone. Seasonal Affective Disorder (appropriately abbreviated SAD) affects about 15% of Canadians over their lifetime - and as the name suggests, is attributed to the changing of the seasons. Symptoms usually start mid-fall and continue through the winter months, so we’re right in the onset, folks.
What’s the deal with the Winter Blues?
It mostly comes down to changes in our circadian rhythms - the internal biological clock. When the days get shorter, our bodies don’t produce adequate amounts of serotonin - a neurotransmitter with direct affect on our moods. This disruption also affects melatonin production, resulting in many people feeling abnormally lethargic, moody, causing sleep issues and hunger fluctuations amongst other symptoms. Not fun.
What can we do about it?
While symptoms usually die down as the sun comes back into our lives, some cases of SAD are severe enough that doctors may be inclined to prescribe antidepressants. Even in its more gentle manifestations, no level of seasonal moodiness is a walk in the park. Good news is that there’s a couple things we can implement to try and ward it off through other means:
Vitamin D(on't) skip your supplements. Yeah, this one may seem obvious. It’s no secret that from the months of October to April us Northerners don’t see that much sun on a day-to-day basis. While our best bet is to soak up rays whenever we can - that’s not always feasible. Make sure to source a high quality vitamin D supplement (sub-lingual, ideally!) and aim to take around 1000 IU every day - as it's essential to healthy brain function. While it’s easy to sideline supplementing - consistency really is key, so make it a priority.
Try light therapy. You may want to accessorize your bedside table (or even work desk!) with this nifty little invention known as a light box - nicknamed the "sad lamp." Through emitting balanced spectrum light equivalent to standing outside in the sun, they've been shown to help remedy seasonal disruptions to our circadian rhythm. In addition to helping you wake up naturally, they also help stimulate serotonin production at the start of the day. Light therapy is now incorporated in many hospitals across Canada, and have shown measurable success in about 60-90% of patients.
Nutrition + Exercise - are we surprised? While SAD may have sufferers feeling insatiable and hankering for processed carbs, there’s a couple depression-fighting foods that are great to have on your plate when the moodiness sets in. Omega-3 fats, berries, bananas, Vitamin B-12 and even dark chocolate have all been documented to help (...if this isn’t a valid excuse to get in your daily dose of Creamy Nutty Açaí bowls, hot chocolate, or smoothies then I don’t know what is!) Exercise similarly has a huge impact on our mental health and stimulation of feel-good hormones - double down and take your workouts outside if the sun's out.
Feel like you or someone you’re close to may be affected by SAD? Take time to be compassionate and patient with yourself and others. Everyone’s brain chemistry is idiosyncratic - unique to them - and sometimes factors beyond our control lead to feeling out of whack sometimes. For more information, check out this resource by the Canadian Mental Health Association.