Many people feel sad at this time of year and it’s not related to the festive season. Rather, they’re experiencing seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is associated with fewer hours of daylight and can be exacerbated by spending too little time outdoors. While some people react to the first signs of seasonal change around the fall equinox in September, others don’t notice a decline in their wellness until December. In general, SAD starts in fall or winter and can last until spring.
While the exact cause of SAD is not known, lack of sunlight and vitamin D deficiency top the list of factors. Insufficient sunlight leads our brains to produce less serotonin which, along with dopamine and endorphins, is called a happiness hormone. Serotonin is linked to brain pathways that help to regulate moods, to stave off the blues or depression.
In the early ’90s, I contracted a chronic cough. A village doctor, who was often ahead of the times in her advice, asked how much sun I was getting. “Not much in the winter,” I replied, as I spent almost 24/7 five days a week in my house, office, sports centre or car. She prescribed a strong cough medicine, then recommended high doses of Vitamin D. She also said “go outside every day.” These many years later we recognize the imperative to our health of Vitamin D derived from both natural light and oral supplements.
- excessive sleeping
- moodiness and depression
- lack of energy
- loneliness and sadness
To treat SAD, many sufferers practice light therapy, sitting close to a special “light box” for 30 minutes a day, ideally upon rising in the morning. A light therapy box mimics outdoor light and provides 10,000 lux, a measure of light intensity, which is about 100 times brighter than usual indoor lighting. Others opt for anti-depressant medication. Counselling is another way to address SAD. Recently, some individuals have been experimenting with cannabidiol (CBD). Make sure, however, to purchase hemp-derived products, which do not give the “high” effect of the psychoactive substance, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). In all cases, the principles of maintaining a regular exercise regimen and a healthful diet apply.
Regardless of weather conditions, don’t cocoon indoors. Daylight contributes to our wellness even when it’s cloudy.
On average 6% of adults in Canada and 5% in the U.S. experience SAD. It lasts about 40% of the year and is most common in women. To my good fortune — and thanks to our sound choices to live in Vancouver and Scottsdale during their sunny seasons — I do not suffer SAD. Those who feel any symptoms should see a doctor. She or he will recommend and monitor a form of treatment. •