Dealing with less light in the winter months can be a challenge for many of us.
Here in the mid-Atlantic region of the country the sun rises around 7:20 am and sets around 5:20 pm. We are getting about 1
ten hours of daylight. This ia one whole hour better than a month ago.Still, many of those days are cloudy with minimal available sunshine or the fridge tempatures drive us inside.
There is a type of depression that occurs this time of year called S.A.D., seasonal affective disorder. There is a less severe form called sub syndromal S.A.D., better known as the “winter blues”.
individuals may have a decrease in serotonin, abnormal melatonin metabolism, tryptophan depletion or possibly a disruption in the circadian rhythm. Basically, the increased hours of darkness disrupt the brain chemicals that affect mood.
Individuals with S.A.D. may note an increase in the need to sleep, increased appetite especially in relation to carbohydrate cravings, irritability, relationship or personal difficulties, especially an increase in what is called “rejection sensitivity”, and heavy, leaden feelings in arms and legs. In those who suffer from the “winter blues” these symptoms are less severe.
How does one deal with this?
The most beneficial treatment for individuals diagnosed with S.A.D. is light therapy. This is where you sit in front of a special white fluorescent light that has a plastic diffusing screen which filters out the UV rays This light box is made specifically for this application. The light intensity value is measured at 10,000Lux. It is recommended to start with a ten minute session twice a day and work up to a maximum dose of ninety minutes daily. You sit in front of the light box with your eyes open, but you don’t look directly into the light. Dr. Norman Rosenthal states that sixty to eighty percent of those suffering from S.A.D. benefit from the light therapy. Most people respond within two to four days.
If these symptoms describe how you are feeling, please see your health care provider for a full evaluation. Additional medical treatment may also include certain antidepressants, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or both, and may be recommended with or without the light box.
Although you can purchase a light box without a prescription, a physician or other mental health professional can provide guidelines as to how to use light therapy box for maximum effectiveness for your specific circumstance.
If S.A.D. or the winter blues have crept into your life or the stress of the season has gotten the better here are:
“Ten ways to Chase Away the Winter Blues”
(Individuals with S.A.D.will find these tips as a nice adjunct to their medical treatment.)
- Take time in the sun daily if at all possible for at least 30 minutes (lately this seems like a tall order around here!). The sun gives off 130,00Lux of light intensity which is 13x more powerful than the light box
- Exercise! Combine this with your outdoor time and it gives you a benefit that is value added.
- Take a vitamin D3 supplement. This is the “sunshine” vitamin. Do I need to say more? Sunlight causes our body to make vitamin D but living in a northern latitude in the winter time makes it difficult. This is one supplement worth taking. If you haven’t done so, it is worthwhile to have your level checked by your health care provider to get an accurate recommendation on how much you should take. Multiple research studies have shown anywhere from 400IU a day and upwards are beneficial. This is a fat soluble vitamin, which means when you take the supplement it works better if you take it after a meal that has some good healthy fats in it. Benefits: regulates absorption of calcium and phosphorous which our bones need, immune function, normal growth and development. Multiple studies are under way to see if it is also helpful in reducing risk of diseases ranging from heart disease to some cancers.
- Enhance indoor lighting. Set your desk by a window. Increase the number of regular lamps and light fixtures.
- Set a timer on the light in your bed room if you need to get up before sunrise. A special light called a “dawn simulator” may also be helpful. This device has a light that gradually turns on.
- Always eat breakfast. Besides providing energy to start your day it helps regulate your internal clock, or circadian rhythm. Choose a combination of complex carbohydrates, some protein and a smaller amount of healthy fat. One of my favorites is steel cut oats with unsweetened almond milk, nuts, seeds and whatever fruit is in season.
- Have a snack. Beware of the” junk” comfort foods-they will give you temporary relief but in short order your blood sugar will crash and your mood will worsen. Choose whole foods like apple slices with a nut butter of your choice, a snack bag size of almonds, pistachios or walnuts. (See “Food for Thought” in the next section).
- Eat foods that are found in the Mediterranean diet;veggies, fruit, fish, nuts, and healthy fats like olive oil and avocados. Many of these foods have the nutrients that our body needs to make the precursor to the hormones that affect our moods.
- Cultivate a Positive Mindset Practice.
- Gratitude. Every morning and every night bring to mind three things you are grateful for that day.
- Random Acts of Kindness. Hold the door open for the person behind you, clear the snow off the car next to yours in the parking lot. You get the idea.
- Positive Affirmations. It has been said our thoughts become our words and feelings which create our reality. Think about how you want to feel and practice the language that supports your goals. “I triumph over my stress and celebrate my inner harmony.