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WHAT IS SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER (SAD)?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder diagnosed by the doctor that reoccurs in the same season every year, commonly referred to as the winter blues with symptoms beginning Autumn/Winter and subsiding in Spring/Summer. With symptoms ranging from mild to severe, SAD can affect anyone but more commonly affects women and young adults. Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms are similar to those of depression including daytime fatigue, depressed mood, lack of energy, lack of pleasure and interest.
WHY DOES SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER OCCUR?
Seasonal Affective Disorder occurs when there are significant changes in climate, largely the change to reduction in sunlight. Days in Winter are shorter and colder meaning we spend less time outside in the sun frolicking at the beach and more time inside Netflix and chilling hidden away from the cold (guilt-free).
However, this change in sunlight consumption alters the concentrations of essential hormones like serotonin and melatonin naturally produced by the body. Serotonin and melatonin regulate the body’s circadian rhythm. Serotonin is produced when the body is exposed to natural lighting, while Melatonin is produced at night when the body is preparing for sleep.
STRATEGIES TO OVERCOME SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER
Treatment options for SAD include various types of light therapy, dietary supplementation, therapy and/or antidepressants. It is important to see your doctor if you are experiencing these symptoms so they can advise best treatment to what is most suitable to you. The most effective strategy to overcome seasonal affective disorder is to make a conscious effort to boost serotonin levels in your daily winter routine.
SAD is prevalent in winter when Vitamin D is typically low due to reduced sunlight absorption. The supplementation of Vitamin D in a known Vitamin D deficiency may prevent the development of SAD symptoms. Alongside supplements, we always recommend increasing Vitamin D intake sourced from plant-based wholefoods. Here is a list of wholefoods that are high in Vitamin D (yes, you can get Vitamin D from foods that are not oranges).
- Plant Milks fortified with Vitamin D
- Fortified Coconut Yoghurt
- (and of course, oranges!)
Our favourite Vitamin D boosting supplements are
- SWISSE Ultiboost Vitamin D 400 Capsules
- Ostelin Vitamin D 1000IU Adult Liquid – 50mL
- Pharmacy Care Daily Multi 50+ 100 tablets
Always read the label and follow the directions for use.
Sunlight plays a critical role in the decreased serotonin activity, increased melatonin production and low levels of Vitamin D associated with symptoms of SAD. Initial advice always revolves around reintroducing natural sun exposure in a daily routine, or as much as possible. Another way to combat reduced natural light exposure is light therapy which can be supplemented with bright artificial lighting. For optimal benefits, lightboxes with a minimum of 10,000-lux (which is about 20 times greater than ordinary indoor lighting) are recommended to be used daily for 20 to 30 minutes, preferably early in the morning after first waking up. In some cases, light therapy should be monitored by a health professional.
Serotonin Boosting Routine Rituals
You don’t have to buy a lightbox to reap the benefits of increased serotonin levels. Instead, try changing up your routine, here are some practical routine swaps that will help beat the winter blues one day at a time.
- If you work indoors, take your lunch break outside. Get outside and expose yourself to natural lighting, this will recalibrate your body and regulate your circadian rhythm (by reminding your body what time is it according to the sun and not your phone screen).
- Walk to a café nearby get your afternoon coffee. If you’re needing your 3pm caffeine hit, try walking to your café. The exposure to natural light will combat your Melatonin levels (remember, the sleep hormone) and the brisk walk will boost your dopamine (a natural coffee buzz… just joking, get your coffee. You deserve it!)
- Exercise regularly. We know it’s a draaaag to get out of bed on a winter’s morning, it’s so much easier to stay snuggled up in the warm sheets, but (hear me out) exercising first thing in the morning can boost your Serotonin and Dopamine levels for the day. Instead of sitting in front of a lightbox for 30 minutes each morning, try getting in 30 minutes of exercise instead for the same results.
- Regulate your sleep routine. This may sound boring (ZZZ) but creating a concrete sleep routine will regulate your melatonin and serotonin hormones. Try setting a sleep and wake up time, utilise the wind down/do not disturb feature on your phone and create a relaxing sleep environment – all a part of something we call good Sleep Hygiene. As always, you can speak to Wholelife Pharmacist for more details on good sleep hygiene measures.
Please note, Seasonal Affective Disorder exhibits symptoms like those of other forms of depression. If symptoms worsen, please seek professional advice from a trusted doctor.