Are you S.A.D.?

Photo: Horrocks
Feeling blah? Irritable? Having trouble getting up in the morning or wondering what's the point? You may have S.A.D. Winter blues Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) is a winter depression that tends to hit people the hardest between November to March. Blame it on the lack of sunlight brought on by grey skies and shorter days. Northerners are the most affected – it's virtually unheard down south, especially near the Equator where daylight hours are long and the sun is bright. Onset usually starts between 18 and 30 years, continuing well into the senior years. No ordinary depression How do you distinguish between ordinary depression and S.A.D. since the symptoms can be similar? According to The S.A.D. Association (SADA) you may be a candidate if you suffer any of the following symptoms for three or more consecutive winters:
  • sleep problems, oversleep, can't get up in the mornings, difficulty staying awake, restless sleep
  • lethargy, fatigue, being unable to get through the day
  • Weight gain from craving carbohydrates and sweet foods
  • feelings of misery, guile, hopelessness, despair and depression
  • avoiding people or any social contact
  • feeling irritable for no particular reason
  • feeling tense and anxious with a low tolerance to stress
  • no interest in sex or physical contact
  • mood swings that are not common
  • weakened immune system with a tendency to catch colds and flu.
  • And of course, the biggest indicator is if your symptoms suddenly disappear in spring and summer. Avoid the happy pill Short of moving south and becoming a snow bird, what can you do about being S.A.D.? Some doctors like to prescribe antidepressant drugs for S.A.D. but many exacerbate the sleepiness and lethargy symptoms. Others like sertraline (Lustral), paroxetine (Seroxat) and fluoxetine (Prozac) can be effective but the associated side effects (sexual dysfunction, nausea, headache, insomnia, diarrhea, drowsiness and anxiety) can make the cure worse than the disease. Shed some light The healthiest and safest treatment appears to be light therapy; it's been used for many years in the sun starved Scandinavian countries. Light therapy is simple and painless: you sit two to three feet away from a specially designed light that emits between 2,500 to 10,000 lux. (To compare: a bright summer day can give off 100,000 lux while your average household lamp gives off between 200-500 lux.) The higher the lux the shorter the session, so many people opt for the brighter lights. These full or broad spectrum lights can be used anytime during the day but many people find using them in the morning the most convenient time. Some companies even sell dawn simulation lights so you wake up to sunshine even there isn't any. The biggest challenge for new users is to find a convenient time and schedule. Find your light Light therapy has proven to relieve many of the symptoms associated with S.A.D. within a few days with the maximum effect achieved within a week. But -- you have to continue the treatment until spring when Mother Nature can take over. SADA recommends trying out any S.A.D. lights before buying. Check with the company if they offer home trials or an easy return policy. To find a suitable light, check out the comparison chart of various brands supplied by The Allergy Buyers Club. You can find out more information from The Society for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms. It has a listing of all the companies selling recognized full spectrum or broad spectrum lights. Anne Colvey, a freelance writer in Montreal, wrote this article in front of her S.A.D. light.