Ugh! Winter is coming! If winter weather makes you feel sad or depressed, you may have something called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of depression that’s related to a change in seasons. The most common kind is SAD that begins late in the summer or fall and is sustained during the winter months. While many people feel a little low during the winter, people with SAD actually have depression which affects their daily life.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is more common in women than men. It’s also more common the further north you live from the equator—that’s us, Vancouver! Living in an area that doesn’t get much sun, having another mood disorder or having relatives with mental health issues also increases your risk for developing SAD. Interestingly, it’s also possible to have summer SAD, but it’s rare. It’s a type of Seasonal Affective Disorder, but it begins in the late spring and lasts throughout the summer.
The most common symptoms of SAD include anxiety, feeling sad, fatigue, poor energy, food cravings, weight gain, feeling irritable, hopelessness, oversleeping and a loss of interest in your usual activities. Scientists aren’t sure exactly what causes SAD, but they have a number of theories. What they do know is that the lack of or a decrease in sunlight is a trigger. Some other possible causes include:
- A change in your biological clock caused by decreased sunlight. Your biological clock may not seem important, but it actually synchronizes your sleep patterns, hormones and mood.
- Your brain chemistry. A feel-good neurotransmitter called serotonin helps regulate your mood. Getting enough sunlight increases your serotonin levels and helps prevent SAD. A decrease in sunlight during the winter months can cause lower serotonin levels, triggering SAD. In addition, people with anxiety and depression may already have lower serotonin levels, and decreased sunlight can aggravate their mental health issues.
- Vitamin D levels. Vitamin D plays a role in serotonin synthesis, and sunlight helps your body make Vitamin D. Decreased sunlight during the winter months may translate into low levels of Vitamin D negatively affecting your serotonin levels.
- An increase in melatonin. You may have heard of melatonin being used as a sleep aid. It’s a hormone that your body produces in the evening to trigger sleepiness. Less sunlight during the winter months may actually increase your body’s level of melatonin causing you to feel fatigued and listless.
- Your mindset. Okay, winter is…cold. And some people believe that it’s not as fun as summer. If you’re dreading the onset of winter, it may be a source of stress and depression, which can contribute to or increase your risk for SAD.
Treating Seasonal Affective Disorder
Standard treatments for SAD include using a special lamp that provides bright light, talk therapy and antidepressant medications. At BodaHealth, we offer a variety of therapies that can be used as an adjunct to traditional treatments, but they can also be very effective on their own. A first-line treatment for depression and SAD is acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine, TCM (Chinese Herbal medicine). Research supports the use of acupuncture in reducing the severity of depression. In addition, herbal medicine is a great way to support acupuncture treatments. An herbal formula can be fine-tuned to your specific needs and can be adjusted as necessary.
At BodaHealth, we take every aspect of your health into consideration. For that reason, you may choose to work with our naturopathic physician or holistic nutritionists to optimize your nutrition to support your mental health. The foods you eat affect the production of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine that affect your mood, concentration and promote calm. A first step is to assess what you’re currently eating, and then we can make recommendations on foods, vitamins and other nutrients that may be affecting your mood. Our naturopathic physician can order labs to test for nutritional deficiencies, including Vitamin D. Nutritional therapy can help improve your energy, balance your moods, promote calm and reduce food cravings.
Our practitioners will also make lifestyle recommendations that can help reduce the impact of seasonal changes. This may include spending more time outdoors, increasing your exposure to sunlight both in and outdoors, getting adequate sleep and adding physical activity to your self-care routine. In addition, you may benefit from the stress relief and relaxation of a massage. The massage therapists at BodaHealth have a wide range of skills and techniques to help reduce muscle tension, improve your energy and relieve stress.
Let’s face it; winters in Vancouver can be cold, cloudy, rainy and sometimes snowy. If you struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder, that doesn’t mean you’re destined to spending the winter hunkered down under a blanket. At BodaHealth, we’re committed to providing the best natural physical and mental health care. If you’d like to know more about SAD and how we can help you get through the winter, please contact us today!
Dr. Jeda Boughton is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Registered Acupuncturist in Vancouver. She is also a Registered Herbologist and the founder of BodaHealth.