It’s that SAD time of year

by Rachel Remington

Horizon Reporter

Summer felt like it was just yesterday, and already the weather has rapidly shifted into the cold and dreary conditions that make up about eight months of a typical year in Bellingham, Wash.  Many begin struggling to keep their heads up in the wake of the season.  Gray weather, wind, and icy rain is the reason that some feel the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a condition that is caused by a change in seasons, and the amount of sunlight one’s body receives.  The most common form of SAD is winter depression.  “The grayness and darkness impacts people,” said Margaret Vlahos, a Whatcom Community College counselor.

This disorder is much more common in northern parts of the United States, where it is colder and less sunny.  “When it’s darker more often, I stay inside more often,” said Jamie Merkel, a student at Whatcom.

SAD is seven times more common in Washington State than it is in Florida, and about 10 to 20 percent of people worldwide suffer from a mild form of it, states the American Family Physician web site.  Usually the symptoms arise in the early 20’s, so college students often suffer the ailment.

Some common symptoms of SAD include a change in appetite, fatigue, depression, difficulty concentrating, irritation, increased sensitivity to how others treat you, crying more often, and a loss of sex drive, according to the National Institute of Mental Health web site.

Although the symptoms are similar to regular depression, the disorder can be distinguished from it because one who suffers from it feels normal and content in the summer, but experiences depression during the gloomy months.

There are a number of beneficial ways to treat the symptoms of winter depression, and even ways that one can treat themselves without any therapy or medication.  The Mayo Clinic online suggests that basic lifestyle changes, like exercising more regularly, getting outside more often, getting enough sleep, or socializing more can greatly improve one’s mood.

It also helps to have somewhat of a routine in your life, and to be involved in things so you don’t feel the urge to oversleep.  Rich Berry, a Whatcom student, said it helps him to have priorities in the morning so he has a reason to get out of bed.  “If you have to be at class at 7:30, get up,” said Berry.

Vlahos recommends that those who don’t start feeling better through small lifestyle changes should go see a doctor and get their vitamin D levels checked.  Vitamin D is soaked into your body from sunlight, and sometimes a lack of sunlight can cause one to have an absence of it, causing one to feel unhappy.

According to the Vitamin D Council website, taking vitamin D pills regularly in the winter can boost one’s mood and have effects similar to being exposed to sunlight, but there are other natural supplements that are beneficial.  The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine suggests that taking melatonin supplements to increase the brain’s melatonin levels, or taking St. John’s wort extract can both treat the symptoms of SAD.

One of the most common forms of therapy for SAD is light therapy, which uses a full-spectrum light that mimics sunlight, which patients will bask in in order to improve their moods.  Studies have proven that the light is effective for treating both SAD and clinical depression because it helps restore the body to its natural rhythmic release of hormones, according to the Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine.

The Mayo Clinic suggests that going on vacation somewhere sunny is a great way to improve your mood, but if that’s not an option, just get outside more and take advantage of the moments where the sun peaks out from the dark heavy clouds.  We could all use a little sunshine.


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