Spring, sunshine, exercise can help you deal with Seasonal Affective Disorder | VailDaily.com

Spring, sunshine, exercise can help you deal with Seasonal Affective Disorder

Special to the Daily
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There’s something fundamentally healthy about gleeful Americans, like us, who press our fingers and noses against west-facing windows and cheer as gawd-awful winter weather careens toward us.

Then ski season ends but the snow does not, and our mood darkens markedly.

We are weathering a medical condition called Seasonal Affective Syndrome, or SAD.

In normal places it shows up in the winter, but we’re not normal. If we were we’d choose to live somewhere warm where our quality of life is not measured by yards of snow accumulation.

If you just have the winter blahs or cabin fever, you don’t have SAD, doctors say. It’s a form of depression.

“Less daylight during the fall and winter causes depression in some people,” says Dr. David Mrazek with the Mayo Clinic.

Stacey Horn is local licensed clinical social worker and deals with depressed people all the time. Whether it’s SAD or you’re sick of snow, you cannot address it with your behind in your Barcalounger.

“Exercising 20 minutes a day or more will make a difference,” Horn said. “Vitamin D can help. Your doctor will tell you that.”

Pay more attention to the company you keep and what you put into your body.

“Be around positive people,” Horn said. “Don’t overindulge in substances.”

And be patient.

“We’re getting rain and snow, but this too shall pass. It’s spring, after all,” Horn said.

Not unlike Adam blaming Eve for his problems, we tend to blame La Nina. It’s not her fault.

Yes, we are in La Nina, (sing it to the tune of “Yes, We Have No Bananas” and you’ll immediately feel better) but it’s weakening.

“We go to neutral by June,” said Joe Raney, a forecaster with the National Weather Service. “Even if we didn’t, there’s not a correlation between El Nino and La Nina and summer weather.”

About the only connection is snowpack, Raney said. If the snowpack is thin and melts quickly, sometimes – and that’s only sometimes – the atmosphere will suck moisture up from Mexico.

But, as Raney pointed out, we had record snowpack. So if that connection holds, we’ll have less cloud cover this summer than normal.

You’ll see the sun early and often.

“It’s spring,” Raney patiently explained. “Right now we’ve had storms passing every three or four days. There’s one rolling north of Vail Tuesday night.”

Here’s what happens.

We know that brain chemicals help regulate our mood, Mrazek says.

Our brains produce melatonin when it’s dark. Melatonin helps regulate sleep, body temperature and release of hormones.

People with SAD produce too much melatonin and that leads to depression symptoms.

If your symptoms show up when it’s dark and dreary, then go away when the sun shows up, you may have SAD, Mrazek says.

That’s why light therapy (phototherapy) is popular in treating SAD.

If you choose to shed a little light on the issue, you need a light about 10,000 lux (lux is a measurement of light intensity) for 30 minutes, Mrazek says.

If your light is 5,000 lux, then sit in front of it for an hour.

Your light needs to be between a foot and a foot and a half away from you.

Like so much of life, you’ll need to do this with your eyes open, in this case so the light can reach the retina in the back of your eye.

The lights generally sit near where you are, and you can bask in its glow while you’re day trading, hacking the computer of your arch rival or just killing time on Facebook when you’re supposed to be working.

Do your light therapy in the morning, Mrazek says. It can cause insomnia and you already have enough problems.

The Feel Bright visor is likely the most unique light therapy gadget. It’s what it says it is, a visor, and can sit under the bill of your baseball cap, assuming you wear your baseball cap with the bill facing forward as God intended. Velcro straps attach it to your cap. It delivers either 10,000 or 8,000 lux of a green light that shines into your eyes, and shuts off automatically after 30 minutes. It’s $214 and you can buy your very own through MTS Medical Supply.

If you’re more stationary, you’ll want a Happy Light.

Then there’s dark chocolate and its medicinal marvels. It turns out that chocolate is good for what ails you, as long as it’s SAD.

According to Chocolate For Health, cocoa is a great source of serotonin, dopamine and phenylethylamine. All three help make SAD skedaddle and increase feelings of well being. Cocoa also contains anandamide, which makes one feel blissful, say the chocolate advocates.

And, cocoa contains stuff that helps them all stay longer in your bloodstream and brain.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.