Friday, January 3, 2014


 What you might ask is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?  Well, it is also known as winter depression, winter blues and it is a disorder of mood in which people that are have normal mental health throughout the year experience depressive symptoms in the winter.  Less often seasonal affective disorder can affect people in the spring or summer but it tends to hit people the same time each year.  It is not really known what causes it but it is felt that your biological clock is affected by the reduced level of sunlight in the fall and winter.  This may trigger a decrease in serotonin in your brain, which is a neurotransmitter that helps us "be happy" and when it is reduced we can be depressed.  The change in season and shorter days can also affect our internal melatonin levels which can cause sleep disruption also.  So what can we do to help ourselves out and not experience this mild depression and the "funk" that the winter months cause? Here are six tips to help you out:

1.  Exercise, hit the gym-  Regular exercise can help fight against depression (any time of year really), it is a tremedous mood enhancer as it helps our body release endorphins which are our natural "feel good" proteins that help use reduce stress, boost our self esteem, and help us sleep better.

2.  Invest in good lighting -or get a lightbox, which is a portable lamp that is designed to replicate the "full spectrum" light.  It seems that when the seasons change and we lose our precious light at the end of the day, it can contribute to why we develope  SAD.  Good lighting comes in to save the day and if you have good light in the common areas of you home like the kitchen or living room this can help you forget the season of the year and give you the energy to fix dinner, visit or socialize with your friends and family, and in general feel better.  Here is a link about the light therapy:

3.  Increase your daily dose of Vitamin D-  Vitamin D is actually a hormone and it is usually manufactured in our skin when we are exposed to sunlight.  However with the use of sunscreen and the concern about skin cancer most of us are not getting adequate time in the sun and our levels are therefore low.  You should ask your doctor to measure you levels (ask for a Vit D 25OH level) as it is good to know where you are before you take too many supplements but, generally we need about 1000 units of Vitamin D3 a day.  Vitamin D was for a long time only thought of in its ability to work with calcium and phosporous and help our bones become stronger.  Lately, the role of Vitamin D has expanded and it seems like there is not much this hormone can't do!  It is responsible for several metabolic and immune functions such as metabolic syndrome (pre-diabetes), hypertension, general sense of wellbeing,  healthy kidney and thyroid function, also helps reduce daytime sleepiness.  There are several studies that suggest it even helps reduce the risk of certain cancer like colon and breast.

4.  Get outside as much as possible-Getting out will help you get more of your Vitamin D and if you can just walk for 10 minutes like during your lunch break this will help you clear your head and get motivated.  If you are lucky enough to have a warmer day on your hands then you might consider just getting out and going barefoot!  Of course if you are where the winters are severe and you have snow more days than not, this is not practical for you to do.

5.  Eat Seasonally and Healthy-If you want to keep up your energy it is important to eat healty foods and try to avoid the sugary foods and highly processed foods.  Sugar can cause us to be more tired as we experience the ups and downs of our insulin levels in response to our intake.  Too much can also cause some brain "fog".  Eliminating your daily soda and drinking more water is a very good first step in having more energy.  A general rule of thumb is to drink half your weight in ounces of water a day.  So for example a 120 pound person needs 60 ounces of water a day, which is about a half gallon of water!  Staying hydrated helps us have more energy and sleep better.  Eating seasonally lets us take in fruits and vegetables at the height of their growing season which means the nutritional content will be best.  In the words of Michael Pollen, " Eat food . Not too Much. Mostly Plants"

6.  Get 8 hours of Sleep a Night- The amount of sleep we need varies on our age and other factors but a general rule of thumb for adults is to get at least 8 hours of sleep a night.  When people get less sleep than they need this can lead to a deficit and you can experience memory problems, depressed mood, your pain sensitivity may increase, and you may find you are gaining weight.

Hope these suggested tips help you avoid any seasonal depressive symptoms you may have.
Linda Heflin, MD