Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder
by Brandy Givens

At the beginning of December a package I didn’t remember ordering showed up on my front porch. That’s really not surprising since I frequently suffer from Primenesia. This time however, when I opened the box I  didn’t  get that “Oooh yeeaahh” moment when I recognize the contents. Admittedly  I’m pretty bad about compulsive purchasing but this time I didn’t even know what I was looking at until I read the accompanying packaging. As it turned out my sister in law had sent me a SAD light. She had purchased herself one  earlier in the fall and swore by its life changing glow.  

She knew I had a long history of sometimes struggling with mild depression and was convinced it could help me just like it had helped her. I don’t have the ability to set the light on my desk as I work like she does as I don’t have a normal desk job and I decided setting it up on my station would probably blind my clients. My time with my light is limited to setting it on my bathroom counter while I get ready in the mornings. Maybe that’s why I didn’t get the life changing buzz that she swears by but maybe not(spoiler alert!). 

What exactly is the phenomena know as Seasonal Effective Disorder or SAD ? Long before it was a true diagnoses people called it the winter blues.  Not that long ago people of means decided to head to someplace warm and sunny  in the depths of winter while the rest of us just sucked it up and coped with alcohol .  Lets face it, it’s  is easy to be blah in January. The holidays are over and the excitement is gone. Soon the bills for the parties and presents will show up and bury us in debt just like the falling snow. Nothing to look forward to….sigh.  It is easy to be so tired after all that holiday obligation that not getting out of our warm bed sounds like a fine idea. It’s also easy to feed that belly fat that started at Thanksgiving with comfort foods when its cold enough that you can put away your skinny jeans and bury yourself in a big sweater .  And who really wants to do anything when it’s just so much hassle to bundle up, get in to a cold car and maybe brave bad roads. Thanks but I’ll just stay home,eat cookies and watch Netflix.  Honestly, most of us kind of feel that way but SAD is more than just the winter blues and the need to hibernate. 

 Science has been aware for almost one hundred fifty years that people were exhibiting seasonal mood changes but it was not until the 1980’s that the medical community recognized SAD as a mental disorder. There is little doubt that Seasonal Effective Disorder is a disorder that appears to interweave with circadian rhythms.  When the days began to shorten the Pineal Gland, which is a primitive photoreceptor ,began to secrete more melatonin than in months where we have more sunshine. There is also a decrease in Serotonin production. The increase of Melatonin and decrease of Serotonin work together to form a chemical imbalance in the brain that will mimic a true depressive state. SAD was once thought to really only occur above the forty-second parallel . In the United Staes that is a line from about northern California all the way across to about the bottom of Pennsylvania. In Europe it cuts Spain and Italy in half and is anything north of that line. Here is the interesting thing about that theory. There is a significant amount of information to show that location is only one factor in whether a person is likely to get SAD.  The United States has double the amount of SAD occurrences than Europe even though the majority of Europe is well above the forty-second parallel . Recent findings are pointing to multiple factors influence on a persons predilection to get this disorder. It appears that climate, genetics and social-cultural context are just as important as where you live.  How do you know if your’e really struggling with SAD or if you are just feeling down? So when does it go from just blah to this is bad?

Plainly put, if winter blues are a headache then SAD is a migraine. Just like a headache the winter blues effect how you feel about going through your day. I might make it less enjoyable but you can still go to work , cook dinner , go out with friends…etc. The migraine is often debilitating and probably takes away your ability do all those things and more. SAD will make it almost impossible to do your normal tasks without a great deal effort. Ultimately your sadness will seem disproportionate to the actual events in your life. Not being able to understand exactly why you can’t get out of bed or feel any joy when there is nothing wrong with your life maybe a sign. The biggest indicator however is that those symptoms mysteriously appear and disappear at the on set of the change of seasons. Unfortunately, this makes initial diagnoses difficult. Unless you have paid close attention to the hours of daylight in correlation to your mood or you live in an area known for high instances of the disorder then your probably out of luck that first time. Some people including myself, have been aware for years that something just isn’t right during certain times of the year. A friend of mine calls it her “bad time of the year”. She is aware that that particular season triggers an unreasonable and unexplainable sadness for her. I am also aware that I have my “season”. We take extra time to check on each other during those rough times. That leads me to a rarity that I found while studying SAD. Not everyone is effected in the winter. Some people such as myself are effected by what is called SOSAD. Which means summer onset seasonal effective disorder .  Weird huh? So if the common belief is that lack of light causes SAD why then would another season cause problems? Remember the spoiler alert at the beginning of the article? Well that would be about the lovely Pineal Gland. 

The Pineal Gland is a primitive and somewhat atrophied gland located in the brain of almost all vertebrates. Like any of our endocrine glands it’s complicated. Considered the seat of the soul or the third eye, it registers our natural rhythms , like sunlight, sleep, and the appetite . Needles to say the way we live in 2019 goes against almost everything the gland is trying desperately to regulate. 

Not enough sunlight left in the day? Then turn on an artificial light. Sleep when your’e tired? Too much to do to sleep! Eat because your’e hungry? Very funny. Eat when you have time or you are bored. No wonder we get SAD. We ignore our natural rhythms. Many mammals hibernate but humans do not, or do we try? Should we try? Certainly modern life does not allow for that. So how does someone deal with SAD?

As I said in the last paragraph, staying as true to your natural rhythms as possible is important. Really it is important all the time and not just during times of difficulty. It’s important to know your body rhythms. Remember it is your genetics. No one else need understand your needs. Be brutally honest with yourself about what it is you need. If the short exposure to light is causing you problems then get a SAD light and use it early in the day. Do not use at night. They are inexpensive and easily found on amazon. Also try these things.

-Get outside. Yes even if it’s bad weather.

-Go to bed earlier. 

-Turn off the blue light. This means ALL electronics and most electric light. They do still sell candles.

-Exercise. Benefits of doing so are making you genuinely tired and increasing serotonin.

-Seek help if you just can’t shake it. There are drugs that can help. There are people that can help.

-Get away if you can. Sure tropical would be nice but just a break in routine can help.

For sufferers of SOSAD

-Black out shades. Decrease your light.

-Lower the temperature in your house or at least your bedroom.

-Get outside earlier or later. After the intense heat and light have dissipated 

-Turn off the blue light. It is good for no one. It should be easier for you since it is summer.

-Exercise early, late or indoors where it is cool.

-Get help if you need to.

-Get away to a cooler destination. 

Allowing yourself to be true to your own body rhythms and needs will always go a long way to helping whatever issues you are having. Understanding these rhythms takes thought and patience. Meditation also goes a long way to alleviate and sadness. Seasonal or not. So do good supportive relationships. Making those trusted people around you aware of what you are going through is a a tremendous help. Remember to fear not. Just as the seasons change so do your emotions and our states of mind .Everything is fleeting and that is a good thing.

Join me this Friday for a restorative practice to open the heart and stimulate the Pineal gland at Y Respira.