Seasonal variation in mood is very common in northern latitude climates where the sun is low in the horizon, even during the noon hour and the average daily sun exposure is limited. This decrease in light exposure can leave people feeling gloom or even depressed.
Clinically, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a common psychological state that can carry heavy consequences including severe depression which may need to be treated with medication. However, milder forms of this condition include Syndromal Seasonal Affective Disorder (SSAD) which is actually more common. It is estimated that 14.3% of the US population suffer from this later, more mild, form of seasonal depression and that three out of four sufferers are women.
The exact cause is unknown but chemical changes in the brain caused by the changes in exposure to sunlight are probably involved. Symptoms may include:
· Sleeping more than usual
· Craving for sugar, starchy foods, or alcohol
· Weight gain
· Conflicts with other people
· Heaviness of arms and legs
· Behavior disturbances (in children)
The first step in addressing these symptoms is to consult with your healthcare provider to establish the severity of your situation. Once this has been done, consider some of the following suggestion to both improve mood and give you an extra boost when you are longing for more light.
- Phototherapy or Light Therapy: Of all the natural ways to improve your condition, light therapy has been studied the most. Studies have shown that 2 hours of daily exposure is effective in improving mood without side effects. There are commercially available light sources, called light boxes, that can be purchases directly by the patient or prescribed by your healthcare provider.
- Daily outdoor exercises- 30 min of daily mid-day sun exposure in combination with exercise (walking, running, hiking, etc) has been shown to be helpful.
- Natural medicines such as L-tryptophan and St. John Wort have been studied in individuals who don’t respond to light therapy with favorable results. It is important, however, before starting either of these medicines to consult with a Naturopathic Physician to ensure proper dosing and their safe us in conjunction with other medications.
Remember, there are things you can do so you don’t have to be “blue” during this spectacular time of the year.