Are you feeling SAD? No, not the traditional sad but SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). SAD occurs in climates where there is less sunlight at certain times. Doesn’t that sound like where you live? It sure happens here in New York City where I live. According to Cleveland Clinic “when there is less sunlight, your biological clock shifts. This internal clock regulates mood, sleep, and hormones. This shift causes a person to be out of step with the daily schedule that they have been used to and have difficulty adjusting to the new schedule changes." Because it is so dark at 5:30 pm I’m constantly confused by thinking it’s 8 pm, feeling it’s just too late to do things. My brain says that I need to be winding down for bed.
The shift also affects our brain's chemical levels. One way is by reducing serotonin levels. Serotonin is the happy chemical in our brains. Sunlight helps regulate this chemical’s level. Lack of sunlight in the winter can cause us to feel worse and possibly become depressed. Another chemical that is activated is melatonin. Lack of sunlight may stimulate an overproduction of melatonin. This makes a person feel sluggish and wants to sleep more during winter.
The symptoms of SAD are:
Fatigue, depression, social withdrawal, sadness, lack of energy, loss of interest in activities and people, feeling irritated, being agitated, oversleeping, and weight gain.
One of the most effective ways to treat SAD is by using a light box or lamp, You need to sit by the light lamp in the mornings for 15 to 30 minutes a day. Do not use the light lamp at night as it might cause insomnia. You should start feeling results within 2 to 4 days. However, it can take up to 2 weeks to feel the full benefits. This should occur daily through the winter months.
Other ways to treat the symptoms of SAD are exercise, eating well-balanced meals, socializing, taking vitamin D, and going outside during the day to enjoy the sunlight. If your symptoms persist, then you might want to seek talk therapy. CBT therapy has been proven effective in treating SAD. Finally, you might want to consider taking medications.
So, on those beautiful sunny winter days, I hope you can take time to soak up the rays. During the evening hours, remind yourself that it isn’t late you still have time to do more things like going out and socializing with friends or working out.
If your symptoms persist and you want to engage in talk therapy, I’m here.