Most of us are feeling at least a little tired of all the snow, and are thinking more and more often about spring and sunshine. However, for some of us the change of season is much more noticeable because of the huge difference it makes in our mood. It’s normal to have a few days of low mood, but if it persists for most of the winter months and you aren’t motivated to do anything you enjoy then it may be something a little bit more.
Seasonal affective disorder (also called SAD) 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. Less often, seasonal affective disorder causes depression in the spring or early summer.
What are the signs of SAD?
If you think you may have SAD it is important that you discuss how you are feeling with your health care provider. SAD is considered a type of depression, which can worsen and potentially lead to thoughts of suicide. If you are having thoughts of harming yourself or others it is of the utmost importance to seek medical help immediately!
What Can We Do About SAD?
Light Therapy (phototherapy) has been shown to be a very effective treatment for reducing feelings of SAD. The specialized light box mimics natural light, which seems to have an effect on brain chemistry related to mood. Most people start to respond after 2 to 4 days and causes few side effects.
Conventional Treatment: If symptoms are more severe then a combination of psychotherapy and medication (eg. Zoloft or Paxil), may be employed by your doctor. Generally a medication with the fewest side effects will be chosen, and your doctor may suggest beginning the antidepressant prior to the start of your symptoms each year.
St. John’s Wort: has been used to treat mild to moderate depression. Some studies have found St. John’s Wort to be comparable to tricyclic and SSRI (fluxotine) with fewer side effects.
SAMe: synthetic form of the same substance that is made naturally in the body from a reaction between methionine (an essential amino acid) and ATP, has been shown to alleviate depression as well as the pain of osteoarthritis.
Melatonin. This natural hormone helps regulate mood. A change in the season may change the level of melatonin in your body.
Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements may help relieve depression symptoms and have other health benefits. Sources of omega-3s include fish such as salmon, mackerel and herring. Omega-3s are also found in certain nuts and grains and in other vegetarian sources, but it isn't clear whether they have the same effect as fish oil.
Let the sun shine in: Open the blinds, trim a few branches, add a skylight if need be. Do whatever you can to allow more natural light into the home and office.
Go outside: Try and get outside during the day when the sun is shining. Take a nice walk, sit on a bench, just try and get into the natural light more often.
Exercise: Regular exercise has been shown through many studies to improve mood and relieve stress and anxiety.
All of the following have been linked to decreased feelings of depression to varying degrees:
- Guided Imagery
There is no one set formula for preventing SAD, but through proper treatment and working with your health care provider you can learn to manage this condition well. Talk to your Naturopathic Doctor today about getting assessed and treated if needed, and as always talk to your health care provider before beginning any new medication or supplement.
Godfrey A. & Saunders P.R. (2010) Principles & Practices of Naturopathic Botanical Medicine: Volume I: Botanical Monographs. Central Nervous System, pg. 161-163. CCNM Press.
Mayo Clinic. Diseases and Conditions: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/basics/definition/con-20021047
Murray M. & Pizzorno, J.. (1998) Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (2nd Ed.). Depression, pg 377-400. Three Rivers Press.
I am a Naturopathic Doctor and Doula providing care in the Kitchener-Waterloo area. I have a passion for helping people with their health issues and improving the birth experience for Moms, and their babies. I also have a life long love affair with soccer, curling, and the alto saxophone.