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Do you suffer from SAD?

Today, we hear from guest blogger Kimberly Hayes and her struggle with this yearly cycle of sadness.

The condition known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) has been called everything from the midwinter blues to cabin fever. Such homespun designations are colorfully descriptive but they don’t capture the severity of the mental and physiological effects that months of enduring a cold, dark environment have on as much as 5 percent of the population. Fewer daylight hours means the brain produces less of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which conveys feelings of pleasure and happiness. For people — particularly those who live in typically cold northern states — who are especially vulnerable to depression, SAD is an annual affliction that makes it difficult to get out of bed, go to work, associate with friends and deal with problems as they arise.

Symptoms manifest as negative attempts to cope with the burdened, depressive miasma that oppresses SAD sufferers. They may include binge eating, excessive fatigue, and negative feelings and thoughts that can easily descend into depression and even suicidal impulses. If you anticipate the onset of winter with dread, take heart. There are many ways to counter the impact of SAD and prevent what can be a debilitating emotional slide.

What can you do?

As with many psychological and emotional conditions, exercise can be an effective remedy. Exercise activates the neurotransmitter dopamine, which produces positive feelings in the brain. It can be really hard to get off the couch, bundle up and charge off into the cold, but exercising outdoors and getting plenty of fresh air into your lungs can give you a major mental boost just when you really need one. If you’re stuck at work 8 hours or more every day, take advantage of every opportunity (breaks, lunch, etc.) to take a brisk walk or do some stretching exercises. Remember, just 30 minutes of exercise a day can make a major difference in the way you feel.

Canine companionship

Can you think of a better companion than one that’s always smiling (or appears to be smiling), is always glad to see you, and gives love unconditionally? That’s what dogs provide. Just petting a dog releases oxytocin, the so-called “love hormone,” and causes a dip in the stress hormone cortisol. So from a brain chemistry standpoint, a dog really is man’s best friend. As wonderful and supportive as friends and family can be when we’re experiencing the hopelessness of depression and the spirals of anxiety, this primal connection we have with dogs, their upfront expressions of affection, and their more-discernible needs (and expression of those needs), is a kind of powerful, moving simplicity that not only doesn’t pile on to the stresses of life but shows us the potential joys we weren’t able to see before.

Shine the light

The loss of sunlight during the long, cold winter months limits the number of messages that are transmitted to different parts of the brain. The less light, the fewer nerve messages and related brain activity. That means a drop in serotonin, which is what those who suffer from SAD really need. The resulting imbalance in brain chemistry can leave you feeling depressed. With that in mind, do everything you can to brighten your home throughout the winter. Exchange heavy drapes for thin, transparent shades that let in the light. Consider moving your furniture so it faces the largest windows in your home. You can also brighten things up by repainting with white and bright pastel colors. Long days at the office are always depressing, but you can mitigate the effect by introducing light into your work environment. Try placing a lightbox in your office, a device that helps a vast majority of people with seasonal affective disorder feel much better.

Motivated and productive

Most people feel sad and worn down every now and then during the winter months. It’s a far cry from the despair and torpor that people with SAD feel, and which can reduce normally well-adjusted people to a state of prolonged inactivity. Recognizing the signs of SAD is the first step in understanding that exercise, companionship, and exposure to light can help you stay motivated and productive.

Kimberly Hayes enjoys writing about health and wellness and created to help keep the public informed about the latest developments in popular health issues and concerns. In addition to studying to become a crisis intervention counselor, Kimberly is hard at work on her new book, which discusses the ins and outs of alternative addiction treatments.
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