Haims: ‘Winter blues’ could actually be seasonal affective disorder (column) | VailDaily.com

Haims: ‘Winter blues’ could actually be seasonal affective disorder (column)

Judson Haims
Special to the Daily

Editor's note: Visit this article at http://www.vaildaily.com for suggestions on things you can do to help reduce the effects of seasonal affect disorder (SAD).

Suddenly, over the past week, our office has been managing temperaments, anxiety, energy levels, strange behavior and overall health concerns of our clients. It all just started; there was no buildup and few, if any, warning signs.

Then, while at Costco the other day, with Halloween and holiday items filling the store, I was biting into a pumpkin spice cookie and I had an epiphany. It hit me — it just might be SAD, or seasonal affective disorder.

If we were not already besieged by enough medical acronyms, then here is yet another one. SAD is caused by lack of exposure to sunlight during the winter months, and it can be a serious condition that may require professional care. If you are concerned an elderly friend or relative may be experiencing sudden changes in mood, energy, depression and even overall health, then you may want to learn a bit about SAD.

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There is a science behind it, it's a real thing, and if you stop and consider the signs, you'll be hard pressed to deny it exists. The premise behind it is our circadian clock, sometimes called our "body clock." The circadian clock is the body's internal timekeeper; it tells us when to sleep, wake up and eat. It also has a part in regulating many physiological processes such as hormone release, temperature regulation, metabolism and mood.

Symptoms of SAD

While SAD manifests differently from person to person, many symptoms are commonplace. Research indicates that symptoms start around autumn and continue well into the winter. Some of the more common symptoms of SAD include:

• Lack of energy

• Memory loss

• Sleep problems

• Change in appetite or weight

• Problems concentrating

Don't grab the bottle of antidepressant pills. With a little education and information, you may find that there may be better choices to deal with seasonal disorders.

A common and readily available treatment for SAD is light-box therapy. Light boxes provide a measured amount of balanced spectrum light, which is thought to assist in helping our body's serotonin from being transformed into the sleep hormone melatonin. Melatonin helps regulate our circadian clock (sleep and wake cycles).

During the seasons where people are exposed to greater amounts of sunlight, serotonin levels are high and people often are less inclined to feel sleepy, tired and depressed. It is thought that light boxes can mimic natural sunlight and, therefore, maintain and/or increase serotonin.

Pay Attention to your diet

Daily diet also plays an important role in those experiencing the winter blues. According to a study undertaken by a team from the College of Education at the University of Georgia, a vitamin D deficiency may affect mental health.

Choosing a healthy, vitamin-rich diet is one of the ways to help beat the winter blues. Foods such as salmon, eggs, fortified breakfast cereal and even mushrooms are ideal for helping boost your vitamin D levels. While doses may vary from person to person, research indicates that doses between 1,000 and 2,000 IU often effective. (IU stands for international unit and measures the potency of a product, rather than its mass or volume.)

In addition to vitamins, our food choices eaten during the winter months may also play an important part in relieving the symptoms of SAD. Tryptophan-rich foods such as lean meat, fish, legumes, nuts and fruits such as bananas, figs and prunes assist in increasing serotonin levels.

With the onset of winter, moods, anxiety and health issues change. It's important to be aware of the signs and to assist anyone who may struggle with winter disorders. You could make a difference in someone's quality of life.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. Contact him at 970-328-5526 or visit http://www.visiting angels.com/comtns.

Tips to combat SAD

Here are some things you can do to help reduce the effects of Seasonal Affect Disorder. Take control before symptoms get worse.

• Make your house light and bright. Raise the curtains and blinds so daylight can freely enter the house. Keep a window cracked for fresh air.

• Get out. Don’t just sit around. Find ways in which you can beat the “cabin fever.” Get together with a friend and go anywhere; go for coffee or lunch, stay social.

• Exercise regularly, preferably outdoors, but when the weather is inclement, switch to an indoor exercise program.

• Manage your diet. Those ‘”comfort foods” that taste and make you feel warm inside will do harm in excess.

• If depression seems to be a concern, consult your medical provider and inquire about supplements such as St. John’s wort, SAMe, omega-3 fatty acids and melatonin. Also, consider acupuncture, yoga, or meditation.

• Don’t sleep the day away. If you find that you are waking later than usual, it may be due to a lack of purpose and desire to get out and get things done.

• If possible, get out of town; head to the sun.

• Avoid excessive use of alcohol, caffeine, nicotine or any other substance to overcome sluggishness and lethargy.

If concerns of winter driving conditions are justification for keeping you from getting out, or are keeping you from medical appointments, there are solutions. Give our office a call and we will be happy to share resource information.

Source: Visiting Angels Home Care