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Feeling SAD? It could be Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Updated: Sep 4, 2022

You may have heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), the psychological event of worsening moods during the Autumn and Winter months. SAD is associated with shorter daylight hours and tends to be more prevalent in climates further from the equator where there is a more significant difference in daylight hours between Summer and Winter. Lowered exposure to sunlight can cause imbalances of serotonin because Vitamin D is involved in the process of synthesising serotonin from its precursors. undoubtedly behavioural changes during winter are likely to play a role in the experience of SAD as well.

While an appointment with a registered health professional is required for a diagnosis many will notice changes to their mood, energy levels, sleeping patterns, appetite, and general wellbeing. Those with a SAD diagnosis may be treated with prescription medications such as antidepressants. But there are many safe and effective interventions you can use at home to boost your mood with or without a diagnosis.

Maintain Social Connections

Wet cold weather coupled with shorter days tends to put a damper on our social engagements. One survey of 2000 Americans found people were 31% more social in summer as compared to winter. But the human brain is biologically wired for social interaction; loneliness is associated with a number of physical health risks including hypertension, cardiovascular disease, compromised immune system, obesity, and Type -II diabetes and mental illnesses including anxiety, depression, and Alzheimer's disease. Social connection is doubly important for mental health because of the bidirectional relationship, meaning that people experiencing depression are less likely to engage socially which acts to deepen and sustain the depressed mood.

Maintaining your summer social calendar might be a bit harder but some seasonal swaps should keep your social needs met. Try swapping summer barbeques for pot luck dinners, warming winter casseroles, stews, and curries are easy one pot meals for dinner parties. Serve with rice, mashed potatoes and steamed or roasted vegetable medley.

Pick up a winter sport, or check out your local indoor sports center. Form a team with your family and friends for social leagues or join a team and make some great new friends in the process. If sport isn't your thing plenty of arts and crafts centers have social hobby groups or make your online gaming session social with a mic.

For social engagement with an extra dose of community good consider exploring local volunteering opportunities. Volunteering NZ is a really good place to start with links to regional volunteering groups that advertise local roles. Alternatively, research organisations that reflect values and skills you identify with or would like to learn and find out if they have volunteering opportunities.

Love may break your heart, but loneliness will kill you.

Eat a Well Balanced Diet

You often hear the body compared to a car in terms of nutrition. "Gotta put the gas in the tank before it will run"! But like cars, bodies are a bit more complicated. Just as a car requires brake fluid, radiator fluid, antifreeze, water, engine oil, etc. to work efficiently the body requires more than just fuel to keep it running smoothly.

Keeping an overall balanced diet with appropriate levels of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins is a good place to start. but further, consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables in different colour groups will help to ensure a wide range of vitamins and minerals are consumed. Vitamins and minerals, commonly referred to as micronutrients, are important because they facilitate many of the functions within the body supporting normal brain and body activity.

Foods that are particularly helpful for increasing serotonin are found in protein rich foods such as meat, nuts, and dairy. Ensuring an adequate consumption of these foods provides the body with L- Tryptophan which is broken down into serotonin with the assistance of Vitamin D.

Optimise Your Sunlight Exposure

If reduced light contributes to SAD, then it makes sense that increased light should improve it, Right?! In short, yes. Light therapy is one of the leading interventions for SAD, but it doesn't need to be expensive or overly complicated.

As soon as you get out of bed in the morning (or as soon as the sky begins to get lighter) open all of the curtains. Doing this will not only prolong your daylight exposure time but helps to regulate the body's sleep wake cycle.

Try to have your morning coffee or breakfast next to a bright window or sit outside if practical. Take meal breaks outside or near windows to increase your light exposure during the day.

Some people may need or want to use specifically made lightboxes to increase their light exposure. While natural daylight will always be the cheapest and most efficient light solution special lights are readily available and therapeutically effective. The trick is selecting the correct light. Typical household and office/ store lighting is not a good substitute for daylight because they are typically limited spectrum and lack the strength. Keep an eye out for full spectrum lamps with a strength of 10,000Lux as these mimic natural daylight as closely as possible. Care should be taken to ensure the correct Lux and temperature (spectrum) is purchased and the light is correctly used otherwise at best you will have a very expensive desk lamp. Some lights have additional features such as timers and automatic on/off functions such as the option we stock.

Correct exposure to daylight (natural or simulated) regulates the serotonin/melatonin production cycle which helps alleviate those mood, sleep, and energy symptoms. When paired with social engagement and a balanced diet light therapy provides an effective way to minimise the winter blues.

If you would like some support putting together a management plan for your own mood you can book a session with Feeling for Healing here.

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