Keep SAD away from the year’s happiest season
Updated: Nov 16, 2021
Every year, it comes on as inevitably as the holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. SAD is a very apt acronym for Seasonal Affective Disorder, a form of depression that starts around the switchover to Standard Time, worsens through winter, ends in spring, and is winter blues times cabin fever to the nth power.
SAD can make you feel, well, sad, as well as anxious and irritable. It can make you lose interest in normal activities and withdraw from social contacts. In addition to interfering with concentration, it can make you feel fatigued, sluggish, lacking in energy. And boy, can it mess up your sleep patterns. It can also give you a big-time craving for carbohydrates, leading to weight gain, which in turn can sap your remaining energy.
About half a million Americans suffer from SAD, three-quarters of them women. And while older adults are less likely to experience SAD, it may be of bigger concern to them. Seniors are already vulnerable to feelings of social isolation, loneliness and often depression – especially in these times of pandemic and lockdown – and SAD can make those only worse. The first step for dealing with SAD is detecting it, and the full reassessments of our clients that our RNs perform monthly are good for that. They’re mini-versions of our initial three-part holistic needs assessment, reviewing respiratory, cardiac/circulatory, gastrointestinal, neuromuscular, and urinary systems as well as psychosocial and mental status, vital signs analysis and skin condition. (Please contact us to learn more about our thorough, holistic approach.)
Medical evidence strongly suggests that seasonal changes in sunlight are what trigger SAD. Come autumn, there are fewer hours of sunlight, and the sunlight we do have reaches the planet at a more indirect angle. (This is why SAD is much less of a problem in, say, Key West, FL, a mere 1.0551º north of the Tropic of Cancer, than in Richmond.)
Having less exposure to sunlight can reset the internal biological clock that regulates mood, sleep and hormones. It could also change brain chemicals, such as serotonin, that transmit information between nerves. Or reduced sunlight hours could stimulate melatonin, which in turn can increase or otherwise alter sleep hours.
If reduced sunlight causes SAD, then artificial sunlight, in the form of light therapy, can help cure it. This involves sitting two to three feet away from a box containing high-intensity (10,000 Lux) white fluorescent light tubes covered with a plastic UV-blocking screen. Reading or eating in front of the screen for 15 to 30 minutes every morning can bring on improvement in as soon as two days.
Prescription antidepressants, either by themselves or in conjunction with light therapy, can also help. So can spending some time outside each day to catch whatever rays there are, opening the curtains and sitting by the windows, and eating a well-balanced diet with enough vitamins and minerals.
You’ll help keep SAD from interfering with the happy season this time of the year should be.