It is the summer’s great last heat,
It is the fall’s first chill: They meet.
–Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt
The autumnal equinox arrived Sept. 22, officially marking the beginning of fall with its cooler temperatures and shorter days. For some people the beauty of this colorful season is marred by the grayness they see, not only in the cloudy sky, but also within. That’s because as summer moves out, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can move in.
What is SAD?
According to the Mayo Clinic, SAD is a type of depression that’s related to the change of seasons. Most people with SAD have symptoms that start when the days get shorter in September and October and in November with the change to standard time. During this period—which begins and ends about the same time each year—people with SAD may feel moody and depleted. They may dismiss these symptoms as a case of the “winter blues” and may just try and plow through to spring.
Winter-onset SAD symptoms include:
- Tiredness or low energy
- Problems getting along with other people
- Hypersensitivity to rejection
- Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
- Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
- Weight gain
Why SAD Occurs
While there’s not a specific cause of SAD, these factors can contribute to it:
- Biological clock: The dwindling sunlight may disturb our internal clocks (circadian rhythm), leading to feelings of depression.
- Serotonin levels: Diminished sunlight can cause a dip in serotonin, a brain chemical that affects our mood, thus triggering depression.
- Melatonin levels: Melatonin, a hormone made by our pineal glands, controls our sleep and wake cycles. Since light affects how much melatonin our bodies make, the shorter winter days can impact our production of melatonin and spark depression. (Note: While some take the supplement Melatonin to help with SAD, I don’t recommend using it for more than a couple of months.)
Tips to Treat SAD
If you suspect you have SAD, I offer these tips:
- Get outside. Especially if it’s sunny, go outside as much as possible.
- Eat well. Consume a well-balanced diet. Reduce the amount of carbs you eat. Take a high quality, whole-foods multivitamin. I can recommend one for you.
- Exercise. Exercising 30 minutes a day, three times a week can help elevate your mood and energy level.
- Socialize. Meet a friend for a cup of tea. Join a book club. Do whatever you need to do to stay involved in social circles.
More Tips to Treat SAD
If the tips above don’t help, consider:
- Taking an herbal mood enhancer, which is an herbal form of an antidepressant. Some are better than others for SAD so contact me to find the one that’s best for you.
- Taking a Vitamin D supplement. The one I prefer derives Vitamin D from the lanolin in sheep’s wool and comes in both pill and liquid form (excellent for children). Contact me for more information.
- Light Therapy. A light therapy box, which mimics outdoor light, can give relief from SAD. The Mayo Clinic offers this advice about what to look for in a light box and how to use it.
If you suspect the cloudier, shorter days of fall are triggering SAD for you, please call me at 319-631-0824 or email me. I’m here to help.