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Posts Tagged ‘Seasonal affective disorder’

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By Sue Shekut, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Certified Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer

When I was a young girl I remember reading Little House On The Prairie and imaging what life was like in the winter back in those days. From what I recall, back then winter meant staying indoors for months, knitting, snowing, mending, cooking and basically trying to stay warm and avoid blizzards. Well now we have central heat, indoor plumbing and electricity to help combat the harsh outdoors. But we still have issues with the winter.

For those of us that don’t suffer from actual Seasonal Affective Disorder but are feeling the effects of winter, SparkPeople has some great tips on keeping your mood up this time of year. Nicole Nichols, Fitness Instructor Health Educator wrote a great post, “10 Cool Ways to Beat the Winter Blues.” I’ve provided an excerpt below. Read Nicole’s entire article at Spark People here.

The “winter blues” are characterized by the mild depression, lack of motivation, and low energy that many people experience during this cold season. Luckily, there’s a lot you can do to both prevent the blues from coming on and get yourself back to normal if they’re already here.

1. Exercise: Exercise isn’t only for maintaining your weight and staying healthy. It’s great for relieving the stresses of life. Plus, the effects of a good workout can last for several hours after you hit the showers. You’ll have more energy throughout the day, and your metabolism with stay elevated too

2. Eat a Healthy Diet: Avoid refined and processed foods (like white breads, rice, and sugar). These foods are not only devoid of the nutrients your body craves, but they zap your energy levels and can affect your mood—causing depression, lack of concentration, and mood swings. Try to incorporate more complex carbohydrates (whole wheat breads, brown rice, veggies, fruit) and get your daily 8 cups of water.

3. Get Some Rays: Did you know that sunlight improves your mood? Winter days are shorter and darker than other months, and because of the cold weather, a lot of people spend less and less time outdoors. Similar to exercise, sunlight exposure releases neurotransmitters in the brain that affect mood. Try to spend a little more time outdoors.  Keep your shades up during the day to let more light in. Sit near windows in restaurants and during class. Try changing the light bulbs in your house to “full spectrum” bulbs. These mimic natural light and actually have the same affects on your mind as the real thing.

4. Act on Your Wellness Goals: A recent study from the CDC showed a strong link between healthy behaviors and depression. Women who exhibited healthy behaviors (like exercising, not smoking, etc.) had less sad and depressed days than those whose behaviors were less than healthy.

5. Avoid Binge Drinking: Many people who feel down also tend to turn to alcohol when they’re feeling down. But alcohol is actually a depressant, and rather than improving your mood, it only makes it worse. Avoiding alcohol when you are already depressed is a good idea. Moderate drinking is fine for most people, but binge drinking (defined as having 5 or more drinks in one sitting) is never a healthy choice.

6. Give Yourself Something to Look Forward To: Plan something that’s exciting to you—a weekend trip, a day at the spa, a party (but keep #5 above in mind), or special event like a play, girls (or guys) night out, or sporting event.

7. Make relaxation part of your life: Work, class, family, friends, appointments, meetings—even if you enjoy being busy, everyone needs some time off. Don’t be afraid to say “No” to extra opportunities (covering a shift for a co-worker, bringing food to your son’s class party). Try to spend a few minutes each day doing nothing! Read a book or magazine, sleep in on the weekend, go to bed early, try some meditations, or take a yoga class.

8. Embrace the Season: Instead of always avoiding the cold and the snow—look for the best that it has to offer! Take up a winter sport like ice skating, snowboarding, hockey, or even sledding!

9. Get Social Support: Keep a mental list of these special people and don’t be afraid to ask for help or encouragement when you need it. Something as simple as a phone call, a chat over coffee, or a nice email or letter can brighten your mood.

10. Sleep Well: With a little time management, and some self-discipline, you can meet your shut-eye needs. Aim for 7-8 hours each night, and try to keep your bedtime and waking time consistent. That way, your sleeping patterns can normalize and you’ll have more energy. Try not to oversleep—those 12-hour snoozes on the weekend can actually make you MORE tired. Don’t forget naps! A short (10-30 minute) afternoon nap may be all you need to re-energize midday.

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By Sue Shekut, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapists, Certified Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer

Lately everyone I talk to is feeling the effects of winter. In Chicago we’ve had little to no sunshine, lots of cold weather and snow, snow, snow. Crankiness, irritability, more frequent colds and flues result.  But for some people, the winter blues may be more serious, they may have Seasonal Affective Disorder (also called SAD).

According to the MayoClinic, SAD is a an actual medical disorder: Seasonal affective disorder  is a type of depression that occurs at the same time every year. If you’re like most people with seasonal affective disorder, your symptoms start in the fall and may continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody.

What Are the Symptoms of SAD?

Seasonal affective disorder is a cyclic, seasonal condition. This means that signs and symptoms come back and go away at the same time every year. Usually, seasonal affective disorder symptoms appear during late fall or early winter and go away during the sunnier days of spring and summer. Some people have the opposite pattern and become depressed with the onset of spring or summer. In either case, problems may start out mild and become more severe as the season progresses.

Fall and winter seasonal affective disorder (winter depression)
Winter-onset seasonal affective disorder symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Hopelessness
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of energy
  • Social withdrawal
  • Oversleeping
  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Difficulty concentrating and processing information

What Causes SAD?

The specific cause of seasonal affective disorder remains unknown. It’s likely, as with many mental health conditions, that genetics, age and, perhaps most importantly, your body’s natural chemical makeup all play a role in developing the condition. A few specific factors that may come into play include:

  • Your biological clock (circadian rhythm). The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may disrupt your body’s internal clock, which lets you know when you should sleep or be awake. This disruption of your circadian rhythm may lead to feelings of depression.
  • Melatonin levels. The change in season can disrupt the balance of the natural hormone melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood. Talk to your doctor to see whether taking melatonin supplements is a good option.
  • Serotonin levels. A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, might play a role in seasonal affective disorder. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin, perhaps leading to depression.

How Do I Know if I Have SAD or Just Hate Winter?

To help diagnose seasonal affective disorder, your doctor or mental health provider will do a thorough evaluation, which generally includes:

  • Detailed questions. Your doctor or mental health provider may ask about your mood, seasonal changes in your thoughts and behavior, your lifestyle and social situation, and sleeping and eating patterns, for example. You may also fill out psychological questionnaires.
  • Physical exam. Your doctor or mental health provider may do a physical examination to check for any underlying physical issues that could be linked to your depression.
  • Medical tests. There’s no medical test for seasonal affective disorder, but if your doctor suspects a physical condition may be causing or worsening your depression, you may need blood tests or other tests to rule out an underlying problem.

Seasonal affective disorder is considered a subtype of depression or bipolar disorder. Even with a thorough evaluation, it can sometimes be difficult for your doctor or mental health provider to diagnose seasonal affective disorder because other types of depression or mental health conditions may mimic seasonal affective disorder.

How Can I Treat My SAD?

Treatment for seasonal affective disorder may include light therapy, medications and psychotherapy.

Light therapy
In light therapy, also called phototherapy, you sit a few feet from a specialized light therapy box so that you’re exposed to bright light. Light therapy mimics outdoor light and appears to cause a change in brain chemicals linked to mood. This treatment is easy to use and seems to have few side effects.

Although light therapy is widely used and appears to be helpful, it isn’t clear how light therapy works and how effective it is in treating seasonal affective disorder. Before you purchase a light therapy box or consider light therapy, talk to your doctor or mental health provider to make sure it’s a good idea and to make sure you’re getting a high-quality light therapy box.

Medications
Some people with seasonal affective disorder benefit from treatment with antidepressants, especially if symptoms are severe. Medications commonly used to treat seasonal affective disorder include:
• Bupropion. An extended-release version of the antidepressant bupropion (Wellbutrin XL) may help prevent depressive episodes in people with a history of seasonal affective disorder.
• Other antidepressants. Antidepressants commonly used to treat seasonal affective disorder include paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft), fluoxetine (Prozac, Sarafem) and venlafaxine (Effexor)

Psychotherapy
Psychotherapy is another option to treat seasonal affective disorder. Although seasonal affective disorder is thought to be related to biochemical processes, your mood and behavior also can add to symptoms. Psychotherapy can help you identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors that may be making you feel worse. You can also learn healthy ways to cope with seasonal affective disorder and manage stress.

Do It Yourself Treatments for SAD

  • Make your environment sunnier and brighter. Open blinds, add skylights and trim tree branches that block sunlight. Sit closer to bright windows while at home or in the office.
  • Get outside. Take a long walk, eat lunch at a nearby park, or simply sit on a bench and soak up the sun. Even on cold or cloudy days, outdoor light can help — especially if you spend some time outside within two hours of getting up in the morning.
  • Exercise regularly. Physical exercise helps relieve stress and anxiety, both of which can increase seasonal affective disorder symptoms. Being more fit can make you feel better about yourself, too, which can lift your mood.

Mind-body therapies that may help relieve depression symptoms include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Guided imagery
  • Massage therapy

Read the entire article at MayoClinics’ website here.

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