It’s that time of year. The weather is changing, cold and flu season is here, people are gearing up for the holidays, and the realization that only about two months of 2022 is hitting us all. It can be an overwhelming time; for some, it can be a sad (pun intended) time.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
If you are feeling down, you may have the seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Millions of Americans experience SAD.
“Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s triggered by a change in seasons, usually when fall starts. This seasonal depression gets worse in the late fall or early winter before ending in the sunnier days of spring,” according to the Cleveland Clinic.
The days are now shorter. This means less sunlight, and the sunlight is what helps regulate the circadian rhythm (also known as the 24-hour sleep/wake cycle). The circadian rhythm governs literally all our bodily functions, from when we get up and go to sleep, when our metabolism is most active and when various organ systems work at their peak efficiency.
(The sunlight is also where we get vitamin D, one of the most important vitamins for our overall health and well-being).
From an evolutionary standpoint, this makes total sense. Before artificial light, our ancestors hunted, gathered, ate during daylight hours, and slept during the night hours. The “holdover” from this adaptive mechanism still rules our bodies today.
“Circadian rhythm disturbance [for example, less exposure to sunlight] has been linked to sleep disturbances, changes in mood and our eating patterns and metabolism, all of which are affected by Sad,” according to this Medical Xpress article that discusses seasonal depression.
“This is why getting outside and into natural daylight can be so important for people who have Sad.”
Sometimes getting outside is easier said than done, especially if you live in a cold climate. I live in sunny California, so it’s much easier for me to get my daily sunlight dose than someone living in Chicago, for example. Regardless of where you may live, it is always good to try to get some sunlight if possible when you first wake up and around lunchtime.
If it is dreary and there is no sunlight, you might want to consider bright light therapy.
“Since the first description of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) by Rosenthal et al. in the 1980s, treatment with daily administration of light, or Bright Light Therapy (BLT), has been proven effective and is now recognized as a first-line therapeutic modality,” according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
SAD may be temporary and, therefore, not seem like a big deal. However, some people can get seasonal affective disorder in the summer and already have existing mental health issues. Furthermore, now is a time when people may be drinking alcohol more heavily due to all of the festivities and eating more processed foods such as candy and other sweets. These behaviors can also contribute to sleep disturbances, nutritional deficiencies, weight gain, and depression. It is extremely important to be proactive.
The Medical Xpress article mentioned earlier gives some great tips on combating the seasonal affective disorder. Let’s go over them.
- Try the “three good things in nature” task. Nature is one of life’s best natural medicines. This activity involves getting out in nature, whether for a walk or just stepping into your backyard, and acknowledging three things in the environment. This could be the sound of birds chirping, the feel of the wind on your skin, the smell of grass, children playing in the park, and more. This can be a major mood booster.
- Do activities you enjoy in the evening. If that is watching television, may I suggest finding other outlets? Exposure to blue light from televisions, computers, and cell phones during later hours can actually be disruptive to your circadian rhythm. Consider journaling, knitting, reading, meditating, or listening to a good podcast.
- Be silly! “Introducing more humor into your life may help balance out your negative emotions and could even improve sleep quality and mood and reduce symptoms of depression,” reports Medical Xpress.
- Have a hobby. More specifically, have a hobby that exercises skill and gets you in a “state of flow.” This is very similar to being in a meditative state. Create art, play an instrument or try to learn a language you have always wanted to learn.
- Have some rhythm. I’m not talking about when you dance (although dancing can definitely boost your mood). I’m referring to the circadian rhythm once again. Try to go to bed around the same time and wake up at the same time every day (even during the weekends). Also, try to eat meals around the same time every day.
Some additional proactive steps you can take are to exercise regularly, eat a balanced, nutrient-dense diet, and speak with a therapist. I also highly recommend cryotherapy. Also called cold therapy, cryotherapy is known to reduce chronic inflammation, improve sleep, reduce stress, help with pain and weight management and boost the immune system. All of these potential benefits can, of course, help combat depression.
Lastly, I think it is important to talk about seasonal affective disorder. You may feel pressure to feel happy this time of year due to the holiday season. Perhaps you feel shame because you do not feel as happy “as you should.” Remember, SAD is a very common condition, and it’s really no surprise that so many people have it due to the constant use of technology and less time spent outdoors. It is important to be proactive and not let it take over your fall and winter this year.
Enjoy your healthy life!
Joy Stephenson-Laws, is the founder of the Burbank-based non-profit, Proactive Health Labs (pH) and the founding and managing partner of Stephenson, Acquisto & Colman (SAC), the healthcare industry’s premier litigation law firm. She is also the co-founder and president of MoJo Marketing & Media, a boutique creative agency specializing in brand development and content creation, and of The Bili Project Foundation, a nonprofit organization that creates awareness of bile duct cancer and raises funds for research relating to this cancer. She received her B.A. from Loma Linda University in 1980 and Juris Doctor from Loyola University in 1983 and was admitted to the California Bar in 1984.
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder pHLabs