With so much of the country being slammed with severe wintery weather, many people may be more susceptible to a condition known as SAD. When seasons change and the skies become more gray and overcast, as many as 3 million US residents per year suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. This form of depression arrives around the same time each year, usually beginning in the fall, and causes lethargy and changes in mood.
It is believed that SAD occurs when the darker skies reduce our Vitamin D intake and disrupts circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms that are out of balance can then affect serotonin and melatonin levels. Serotonin regulates mood and appetite, so off balance serotonin levels creates cravings for comfort foods, usually containing sugar and heavy amounts of carbs. Increased consumption of the comfort foods can result in weight gain, this can add to depressive feelings. Melatonin is the hormone that regulates sleep. The change in circadian rhythm can create increases melatonin levels resulting in lethargy.
While this all sounds quite complicated, the good news is that, as the skies brighten and winter begins turning to spring, SAD usually ends. If you are struggling and prefer to lessen the effects throughout the fall and winter seasons, there are some steps you can take to improve your energy and mood.
- The “E” word. Exercise. It doesn’t take much, even 30 minutes a day walking on a treadmill has been shown to reduce the effects of SAD. Yoga, pilates, a fitness class or weight lifting, doing some sort of physical exercise can make a dramatic improvement. Find an activity that you want to try, or already enjoy, and drag yourself there if you have to. It will help.
- Fresh air. You can take advantage of two ways to combat SAD by getting your exercise outdoors. Even in chilly or cloudy weather, the fresh air can help improve your outlook and allow you to increase your vitamin D intake naturally.
- Resist the comfort food cravings. A diet of lean protein, fish, whole grain breads and pastas (nothing white) and leafy greens can increase your energy and help you avoid winter weight gain.
- Let there be light! Many people find great relief with the use of light therapy. This is done by the use of a light box, these lamps usually offer 10,000 lux , which is about 100 times brighter than a regular light bulb. Although not as bright as the 50,000 lux found in natural sunlight, spending as little as 30 minutes a day working, reading, crafting, etc. may help with SAD symptoms. Light boxes are readily available at many retailers or online sites, such as Amazon. See the link below for a good option.
- Increase your Vitamin D intake with food and supplements. Great for our bones and our mood, our skin synthesizes vitamin D from sunlight, but when we aren’t getting enough sun we can find vitamin D in fish, eggs, dairy products or supplements.
Look for supplements offering cholecalciferol, commonly known as D3. Per the NIH (National Institute of Health), people under 50 years old should get 200 IU (5 mcg) daily. Age 50 to 70 should get 400 IU (10 mcg) daily. If you are over age 70, the recommended dosage is 600 IU (15 mcg) daily. For more information, here is the link to NIH: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/
And, as always, check with your physician before starting a new regime or if you have questions.
Here is a customer favorite lightbox on Amazon: