This past Sunday, most of the United States “fell back” into Standard Time. At 2:00am local time, the clocks got turned back one hour, making it 1:00am (again). Ah, an “extra” hour to stay in bed. Who wouldn’t want that? For some individuals, the desire to stay in bed is overwhelming. This, combined with other sometimes debilitating symptoms, could lead to a diagnosis of Season Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of depression which occurs at the same time each year. SAD is more common this time of year, though for some, the SAD symptoms are more prevalent in late spring/summer.
The specific cause(s) of SAD is unknown, though experts relate the diagnosis to the lack of light in the late fall and winter months. The reduced hours of sunlight may disrupt the circadian rhythms of humans, which settings indicate the time to be awake and the time to sleep. Reduced sunlight can also cause a drop in serotonin, the neurotransmitter that affects mood, which may lead to SAD. Another possible cause of SAD is the increased levels of melatonin, a sleep-related hormone produced in the pineal gland; greater levels are produced in the dark.
Symptoms of SAD include:
- Extreme mood swings
- Appetite changes – cravings for starchy and sweet foods, often resulting in weight gain
- Excessive sleeping and drowsiness
- Decreased physical activity
- Loss of interest in usual activities
- Avoiding social contact
A clinical diagnosis of SAD is normally made after two to three consecutive years of the above symptoms followed by complete remission of the symptoms in the spring and summer months.
The prevalence of Season Affective Disorder is more common in women; three out of four SAD sufferers are women. Onset of SAD usually occurs between the ages of 18 and 35; the risk of getting SAD decreases with age.
The phrase “the best defense is a good offense” can be applied now to help prevent onset of SAD symptoms as the days grow shorter in the coming weeks. Regular exercise is one of the best activities to keep your mind and body strong and focused. Exposing yourself to as much light as possible throughout the day is very important. If your work environment or home does not get much sunlight, you will benefit from spending some time outdoors in the prime sunlight hours of 11:00 am – 3:00 pm. Many SAD sufferers use an indoor light box for a set amount of time to ensure their bodies are exposed to light in the dark days of winter.
Food choices can also alleviate or control SAD symptoms. Eliminating sugar and limiting caffeine intake are two powerful nutritional choices (always) to control mood swings, but even more so this time of year when the onset of depression is more likely due to reduced daylight hours. Whole grains and grounding root vegetables are good staples to include in your diet at this time of year. Root vegetables help eliminate fatigue as they are rich in vitamins, beta-carotene, potassium and minerals. They are also a great source of dietary fiber, which aids digestion and can help avoid the urge to overeat.
- Evaluate your exercise routine. Make time to engage in physical activity every day.
- Take advantage of sunlight – it is a free resource. Spend some time outdoors every day. (Do this even on a cloudy day. Being outdoors during “daylight” hours on a regular basis will help ward off Season Affective Disorder.)
- Be a social butterfly. Plan activities with friends so you can guarantee yourself some stress-free time to enjoy yourself throughout the winter months.
- Meditate or attend a yoga class. These centering practices will provide time for you to stay in the present moment, help control stress and reduce anxiety.
- Add a variety of grounding root vegetables to your meal plan. Experiment with delicious new recipes.
These steps will help you prepare for the winter months and stay present and focused as the seasons change. If you are concerned about how what you eat affects how you feel, the possible onset of SAD or other life-changing incidences, contact me at or call 413-282-7286. At Bravo! Wellness, I work with my clients to create manageable lifestyle changes so they are able to reach their goals and maintain a healthy and fulfilling standard of living.