SAD or seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression that strikes sufferers at a predictable time each year. Usually in Autumn or Winter. Check here for a list of symptoms
If you are an already diagnosed sufferer, or someone who knows that the winter always brings you down - here are some tips to help reduce the effects of Winter Depression on your body. If you live with someone who suffers from SAD you may be able to pick up some ideas to help your loved one.
- Expose yourself to as much light as possible – preferably outdoors, as natural unfiltered light is the best treatment for SAD. Even on cloudy days a considerable amount of light reaches the ground. Seek out large open spaces if you can, where there is less shading or light obstruction.
- Aim to be outdoors between the hours of 11 am and 2 pm when the sun is at its highest and more light is reaching the earth.
- Get some aerobic exercise as often as possible but at least five days a week. Exercise helps all forms of depression as the body releases its own feel good hormones (endorphins) during exercise. But do not exercise to the level of exhaustion, or it will aggravate fatigue.
Make sure your indoor living environment is as bright as possible:
- Cut down or prune any trees or branches which are blocking light to the windows of your house.
- Pull back curtains and blinds fully in the morning and do not close them until it gets dark.
- Avoid wearing sunglasses when your eyes do not need protection i.e. indoors.
- Place your desk or chair near the biggest, brightest window available.
- Many people find a daylight alarm clock useful as it slowly brightens your bedroom like a false dawn, giving less of a shock going from dark to light, but it is not a treatment for SAD.
Lifestyle and Diet
- Practice good sleep habits – go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time each day. Do not do anything too active before bedtime. Build a calming routine into bedtime.
- Avoid drinks containing caffeine for a few hours before you go to bed and cut down on caffeine in general as it can leave you open to mood swings. But cut down slowly if you are a twenty cup a day addict!
- Avoid snacking on high sugar, highly processed foods. They may give a short-term 'boost' in energy but it will be followed immediately after with a drop in blood sugar, irritability, increased feelings of tiredness and low mood
- Eat oily fish at least three times a week or take a good fish-oil supplement. The fatty acids in fish oil help regulate mood.
- Cut down or if possible avoid alcohol altogether. Alcohol has a depressive effect on the brain and it will bring mood down, even if it appears to improve anxiety in the short term.
Caution: Normal household lighting and even the much more expensive full spectrum lighting will not produce sufficient light to treat SAD. A minimum brightness of 10.000 lux at the eye is required for the light to be effective on altering the disrupted circadian rhythms believed to be the cause of SAD. This is at least 10 times as bright or more than any normal screw in light bulb or or full spectrum bulbs. Such bright and full spectrum lights will make it seem brighter, easier to read, and cause less fatigue to the eyes, and may affect mood in a superficial way, but will not treat SAD. (For more information visit the website of the National Lighting Product Information Program http://www.lrc.rpi.edu/programs/NLPIP/index.asp)
In the EU there is a medical devices agency which licenses SAD lights, and many of the companies selling lights insist on this certification. Others unfortunately do not, so be careful where you buy, and do your research first.
- A Light Box giving off at least 10.000 lux has been shown to be of great benefit to SAD sufferers. Just be careful in choosing a light, as there are many lights on the market which do not provide bright enough light to treat SAD. National SAD organisations may have a list of reviewed lights or you may get a list of lights approved as medical devices from official sources such as insurance companies or national heath care providers. If possible, borrow a light box for a few weeks to see if light therapy works for you, and if you can fit light therapy into your life. Depending on the model, it will need between 30 minutes and four hours seated in front of it, although you can carry out other tasks at the same time.