Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Winter's Effect

Vermont is a wonderful place to live for many reasons—clean air, open space, small town charm—but it also offers its challenges, especially in the winter.  Anyone who has spent considerable time in Vermont and lived through a winter can recognize the trouble! It’s frigid, windy, dark, wet, and long.

While many of us might feel a bit starved for sunlight or warmth during the winter months, for some people, the seasons can have a dramatic effect: seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a condition that can have a tremendous impact on a person’s well-being. SAD is a form of depression that comes and goes depending on the time of year. Spring-onset SAD—a type of SAD that starts in the spring and goes away in the fall and winter—can truly impact someone’s life, though it is much less common than the most common form, fall-onset SAD, a type of SAD that starts in late fall and goes away in the spring and summer.

Individuals with fall-onset SAD might notice increased appetite, especially for starchy and sweet foods; low energy; increased sleep; weight gain; hypersensitivity to rejection; feeling of heavy arms and legs; and irritability. Dr. Steve Sobel of NCSS says that individuals experiencing these symptoms often have to distinguish their feelings from other possible triggers in the season, such as the holidays, which can be a real stressor for many. There are plenty of things in everyday life that can make us feel blue from time to time, or make us want to indulge in carb-heavy meals and sweet treats; but if an individual experiences these symptoms for days at a time, they should not be tempted to brush them off. Like with other forms of depression, SAD can worsen if not treated.
A primary care provider can be a great resource; depending on the severity of the symptoms, varying treatments are available. For mild symptoms, phototherapy (light therapy), talk therapy, and lifestyle changes can be effective. Talk therapy can be helpful in managing symptoms, and individuals might be less likely to experience SAD in the future. Being diagnosed with depression with a seasonal pattern might indicate that an individual is more likely to experience SAD year after year; it doesn’t guarantee it. For those whose symptoms are having a pronounced and significant impact on daily life, medication, along with other treatments, might be considered.

There are several lifestyle changes—some of them small—that can improve symptoms associated with SAD.

1.       Try to go for a walk during the day. Even if it is cloudy and cold outside, outdoor light can help.

2.       Expose yourself to as much sunlight as possible. If you have a window in your office, open up the curtains or blinds. If you work on a desk at home, try to move your desk closer to the window to soak up as much light as possible.

3.       Incorporate exercise into your daily routine. Exercise is beneficial on so many levels; it can increase self-esteem, relieve stress, and help you sleep, all of which can reduce SAD symptoms.

It’s not always easy to work up the energy to go for a walk or get outside when it’s blustery and cold. Good news is, spring is right around the corner!
Check out these links for more information about SAD:

Written by Meredith Vaughn

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