It’s that time of year when we change our clocks and the days are shorter, the nights are longer and the sun is lower in the sky.  Fall is here, winter is just around the corner and the amount of sunlight we can absorb is reduced. All of this can lead to a real condition, known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.  

What is SAD?

• A type of depression that usually starts in the fall.

• This also happens to people who live in northern latitudes, and areas with a lot of overcast days, who don’t see a lot of sun. 

• SAD can worsen any underlying depression.

SAD’s Symptoms include:

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Irritability
  • Lack of motivation
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling worthless or hopeless 
  • Lack of concentration
  • Low energy
  • Loss of motivation

What’s happening?

As the earth rotates around the sun and the tilt reduces the available sunlight, our bodies’ natural circadian rhythms adjust.  The change in available, absorbable sunlight and earlier darkness effects 2 hormones in our bodies: Serotonin and Melatonin 

Serotonin: When we’re outside in sunlight, our eyes trigger the release of Serotonin, a natural “feel good” neurotransmitter that helps keep us happy, calm and focused. People with low serotonin levels may feel depressed, anxious or sad. 

Melatonin:  Is a hormone that’s produced when our environments are dark. This helps us maintain a normal sleep/wake cycle. As the days get shorter, we may start producing more melatonin earlier in the day, leading to more sleepiness. 

Adjusting to less light

Most people need a few days to adjust to the natural changes that occur in the fall. They may feel a bit more tired earlier, be a little more irritable or just not feel like themselves. This usually passes in a few days and our bodies’ natural circadian rhythms sync up to longer nights. Many people who live in northern areas, start planning trips to sunnier areas or find ways to get outside anytime there’s even a little patch of sunlight to walk in. 

For other people, less light is much more than a nuisance or something to adjust to. They may find that ordinary tasks are impossible, that any underlying depression is worse and they may be wondering what to do. 

What can be done?

First, DO consult a medical professional if you or someone you care about is feeling suicidal, severely depressed at any time of the year or helpless. Don’t shrug it off as just being blue and something that will pass. 

For people who are Bipolar

For people who have been diagnosed as bipolar, and are feeling worse this time of year, do talk to your psychiatrist and please don’t attempt to treat yourself by using a lightbox as these can make symptoms worse. 

For people with a mild case of SAD

• Make your environment brighter:

  • Open your blinds, let the sun in
  • Add twinkle lights   
  • Go for walks during daylight hours, even if it’s cloudy, grey or foggy 
  • Exercise regularly
    • Join an exercise class   
    • Walk your dog or your neighbor’s
    • Any cardiovascular workout like a Zumba or dance class will get your heart beating and your endorphins pumping  
  • Socialize, live and in person.
  • Get off social media – too much comparing and despairing!  
  • Volunteer and helping others brings so much more to your life.
  • Take a class in something you’ve always wanted to do like salsa dancing, learning Italian, photography, cooking, etc. Aim for something that helps alleviate stress, not increase it. Unless 13th century Russian Literature or theoretical physics is your thing, you might choose something more fun.
  • Do make regular plans and dates with friends. 
  • Do not hibernate and be socially isolated, this makes it worse.
  • Sex:  This is important all year round and really increases endorphins. By yourself or with a partner, everyone is happier with more sex!  
  • Plan a trip!  Hopefully to someplace sunny  

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