05 Mar 2013
March 5, 2013

Fighting SAD in the Winter

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Keeping up the Fight Against Winter Blues and Seasonal Affective Disorder


Thanks goodness it is January!  You might be saying, “The coldest month of the year – is that something to be thankful for?”  For those who struggle with winter blues, being outdoors on the sunny frigid days can be one way which helps in making it through this time of year.  The days are slowly starting to lengthen, which is another sign that spring is on the horizon!  Still, many people need some extra help to make it through this time of year.


What is SAD?


SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a type of winter depression which affects millions of people every winter, in particular during December, January and February. SAD is caused by a biochemical imbalance in the hypothalamus due to the shortening of daylight hours and the lack of sunlight in winter. For many people SAD is a seriously disabling illness, preventing them from functioning normally without continuous medical treatment. For others, it is a milder condition, causing discomfort, referred to as sub-syndromal SAD or winter blues. There is also a rare reverse form of SAD, known as summer SAD, where symptoms occur each summer and remit in winter.


What are the symptoms?


-a desire to oversleep and difficulty staying awake, but in some cases, disturbed sleep and early morning wakening;

feeling fatigue and an inability to carry out normal routine;

-a craving for carbohydrates and sweet foods, usually resulting in weight gain;

-feelings of misery, guilt and loss of self-esteem, sometimes hopelessness and despair, sometimes apathy and loss of feelings;

-an irritability and desire to avoid social contact;

-tension and inability to tolerate stress;

-a decreased interest in sex and physical contact

-and in some sufferers, extremes of mood and short periods of hypomania (overactivity) in spring and autumn.   (Definition and symptoms courtesy of http://www.nosad.org/)


What are some helpful strategies to fight SAD?


If you suffer from SAD or any other mental health concerns, seeing your doctor is very important.  In addition, some complementary therapies can assist in your treatment.


Visit your Naturopathic Doctor (ND) to discuss vitamins and supplements that will give you a natural boost.  Your diet may also warrant a few improvements.  SAD sometimes is accompanied by carbohydrate cravings and your ND can help you manage these.


Light therapy – discuss the option of light therapy with your doctor.  Just 30 minutes a day upon waking can help some people improve mood and energy in the winter.


Get outside when the sun is shining!  In our climate and latitude even sunny winter days may not be enough to combat SAD, but getting some time in the sun each day with a little exercise will do wonders for your energy levels.


Massage therapy can also help with symptoms of anxiety or insomnia that may be increased at this time of year, as well as aid symptoms of depression.


Here is how it works:  Massage works directly on the nervous system, slowing you down and allowing your parasympathetics to kick in (your rest and digest system).  Ever notice how your stomach starts to grumble during a massage and your limbs get cold?  That is your parasympathetic system in action!  Studies have suggested that massage slows the heart rate and increases peristalsis.  Evidence of this is seen by the slowed breathing, reduced heart rate, and increased abdominal sounds exhibited by patients during a massage treatment.


When the parasympathetics are allowed to do their job, the firing of the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) decreases.  Levels of cortisol are decreased and levels of serotonin and dopamine (your “feel good” hormones) are increased, resulting in a greater feeling of well-being and better rest.  However, when our bodies and minds are stressed and we are in fight or flight mode, our adrenalin and cortisol increase and we are more prone to muscle spasm, delayed healing, and digestive problems.  Needless to say, our rest is disturbed too!


This is the reason why I consider a relaxation massage to be a legitimate health treatment – not just a luxury.  Everyone has a different pressure preference and some people genuinely relax with deep pressure, but the main point is that you relax, rest, and digest!  A regular routine of treatments with a caring therapist will enhance this relaxation as you build trust and know what to expect during your treatment.  Over time you WILL reap the benefits!


By Judy Gerber van Vliet, RMT