Recognizing and Living With SAD

Many people suffer with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) without realizing they have a legitimate condition much less a treatable disorder.

SAD symptoms commonly include:

• Depression, guilt, loss of self-esteem, despair and apathy
• Anxiety – anxious and unable to tolerate stress
• Mood changes – extreme mood swings
• Sleep issues – unable to rest comfortably, need to nap, difficulty getting up in the morning
• Lethargy – feeling of fatigue and inability to carry out normal routine
• Overeating – craving for comfort foods such as mac ‘n cheese and chocolate
• Social problems – irritability and desire to avoid social contact
• Sexual problems – loss of libido

Stay at home parents and those who work from home are more susceptible, as well as those with a family history of psychological disorders. Whatever the cause, you do not have to ‘buck up’ and suffer through it.

There are multiple treatments for SAD with varying degrees of effectiveness. For those who prefer natural remedies and can be flexible about where they live or work, I strongly recommend you move to Colorado. Second only to Florida in annual sunshine, the bright days and year-round outdoor living are sure to cure your blues.

I suffered for 50 years with a myriad of seasonal allergies and psychological disorders while living on the east coast. When I moved to Colorado, all my problems disappeared. First, the move confirmed my suspicion that I had SAD. There are few gray days in Colorado and waking to morning sunshine all winter was immediately uplifting. Second, the absence of allergens meant I was healthier and free of the sore throat and burning eyes, so I could enjoy the outdoors and get plenty of natural sunlight.

The blues frequently descend on those who are stuck indoors, but if the weather is bad or, like me, you are allergic to everything outside the window, then you don’t want to leave the house and you have a self-perpetuating problem. Colorado is not the only state that offers a sure cure but it’s one that many people do not think of because they believe the extreme cold will simply keep them indoors; not true.

If moving to a land of sunshine is not an option, then talk to your doctor about light therapy. In this case, the patient sits in front of a light box for a specified period of time each day. Light boxes are available for home purchase and you should check on whether your health insurance will pay for one.

Another simple thing is to write daily notes of gratitude. Each night write a few words about something positive that happened that day, no matter how incidental. You will fall asleep with lighter thoughts on your mind, which will improve the quality of your sleep and you will wake with a more positive outlook. Practice smiling; smile at everyone, even on the phone. People with SAD project a negative energy that pulls others down. By smiling, you will reinforce the positive nature of those you encounter.

Avoid alcohol if you suffer with SAD. Alcohol enhances whatever mood you are in when you begin to drink. Winter is a great time to catch up on all the comedies you missed during the summer. Whether you watch TV or go to the movies, keep the focus light and uplifting.

Exercise is invigorating and will do a lot to help you shake the lethargic feeling that accompanies SAD. Get out of the house and into the gym; preferably with a friend who makes you laugh.

Take a winter vacation to a sunny locale. Review your diet. Foods, through their impact on brain chemicals, affect our mood so you may have to regulate your intake in winter to account for your reaction to various nutrients.

For severe cases, medication may be required. Anti-depressants are a last resort but should be considered when all else fails. The most important thing is to be aware of your mood and flexible in your approach. Something as simple as a visit with your grandchild may uplift your spirit for days.

Most of us know a friend or family member that suffers with SAD. Help them by sending an email or greeting card that will make them smile. Check on them with a phone call and only talk about good news. Send internet videos of cute or funny animals; everyone chuckles at these. Invite them out for coffee on a dreary day or take them to a brightly lit mall. Winter is a good time to visit the lighting stores for those new fixtures you want; productive and therapeutic.