Saturday, February 7, 2015

S.A.D. WHEN IT'S MORE THAN JUST THE BLUES

by Mary Kennedy                                
    

Everyone gets depressed from time to time; a loved one dies, a promotion falls through, friendships wither and disappear, health problems strike with no warning.  Thankfully, most of us recover rather quickly; a natural resiliency takes over and we bounce back from the most dire circumstances. We integrate the loss into our lives and deal with "the new normal." The world calls us back and we gradually regain our equilibrium.

                                      

But what if you don't bounce back? What if the feelings of sadness, malaise, low self-worth, sleepless nights and intrusive thoughts continue? What if you just can't shake them off?  What do you do if the dark thoughts persist and interfere with your ability to function at work? What happens if you just lose all motivation and find it difficult to get out of bed in the mornings?
                                                                   

You could be suffering from S.A.D, or seasonal affective disorder. SAD is more than "cabin fever;" it's a real mental health issue that's triggered by the change in seasons. In some parts of the country (like here in the Northeast)winter weather can be brutal. The flat gray sky, bare trees and biting wind can set the stage for a depressive state that might last until Spring.  You feel like you're trapped in an Ingmar Bergman film! Many of my clients admit to feeling "blue" every year, during the winter months, but a lot of them don't identify it as SAD.
                                                            

It's worthwhile to track your mood changes at the onset of winter weather. Are you reasonably happy during the Fall and then you feel depression creeping in as the days grow short in late November? Does the stark landscape seem to mirror your own feelings? Does the dark mood pass when the sunshine and flowers return in the Spring? 

Here are some important things to remember about S.A.D.

Five percent, or about one in twenty people, suffer from S.A.D. You are not alone and there are support groups for this disorder. It helps to know that other people are suffering from SAD and you might learn some helpful coping skills by sharing your story.

Women suffer from SAD about four times as often as men, but this is true of many mood disorders. More women than men suffer from depression, anxiety, dysthymia. There's some evidence that hormonal influences play a part in SAD. In any case, it is a real disorder and not a "character flaw." You can't wish it away, but you can learn to deal with it.
                                                         
Keeping a mood diary will give you a sense of control, a feeling of mastery over the condition. Mapping your mood, your activity level, your amount of exposure to sunshine can be helpful in managing SAD.
                 
If your symptoms are mild, you may not need any treatment. You can start with behavioral changes on your own. Make an effort to get more sunshine (bundle up and go out on sunny days, even if it's bitterly cold.) Also, ramping up your exercise may solve the problem. If it's really too cold to walk outside, do "house-walking" which is really popular, and aim for 10,000 steps a day. If you need a little encouragement, there are dozens of good DVD's out there. Or call an exercise buddy and meet up at the local Mall.

If your symptoms are severe or persist for two years, you should be evaluated by a mental health professional. There are many treatments available for seasonal affective disorder. There are special lamps called "light boxes," that are often helpful and some insurance plans will pay for them. And if you feel you need additional help, there is medication and talk therapy. Sometimes educating yourself about the problem and talking it over with a trained professional puts things in perspective.  I've found that reassuring my clients that SAD is a temporary biological problem goes a long way to making them feel better.

So, try the self-help approach and know that professional counseling is always available if you need it. And remember that we're already in February, so cheer up, Spring is right around the corner.

Mary Kennedy

16 comments:

Lynda Turpin said...

Good post Mary. I had never heard of SAD, but I have seen how gloomy weather can affect some people's moods. And I have often wondered how people cope in places like Alaska when it's dark for so long. I think that would depress me.

mary kennedy said...

HI Lynda, thanks so much for stopping by. I always wonder how people manage to live in Alaska, too. Months of darkness to contend with! Glad you are in a sunny place!

Diane LaBrie Leverson said...

Hi Mary, I don't think I have SAD but I seem to be a little depressed since we have all this snow. I'm so sick of it and have to think every day if I want to go out and drive around in it. I am staying in the house more now. Next is the snow starting today off and on and with a lot tomorrow evening and all day Sunday and Monday. I can't wait until Spring. I love Spring and Fall the best. Summer is OK too. With me it seems to be just this last 2 weeks that I don't want to go out at all. Not only driving is bad but walking to the car can be a problem too. Oh well, Spring is on the way.

mary kennedy said...

Hi Diane, these dark, cold days are enough to make anyone feel gloomy. If you're staying indoors try putting some music on, it might lift your spirits. And having a friend over for tea or cocoa helps, too. And remember the song in the musical ANNIE--"the sun will come out...tomorrow!!" Thanks for stopping by.

Diane LaBrie Leverson said...

Thanks Mary, I have music playing on the tv. I do like those channels they have now with all different types of music. Tomorrow, tomorrow, the sun will come out tomorrow. Meanwhile it is snowing now. sigh!!

Mama Cat said...

Mary, this is a great article and I hope it will help many women! As someone who has endured depression since a teen as well as being a modern med experiment when needing to change meds, I have also had SAD. Yes, even here in the Southwest, it can be as much of a challenge as when I lived in the Midwest. I have used one of the "wake up" lamps for years, and it seems to help. That, and getting through morning devotions, not allowing myself time to think about getting up, various other tricks, especially spending time with my cats. Love being a Crazy Cat Lady! BTW, any thoughts on why women seem to have this more than men, other than that women are more willing to go to a doctor? Jeanie

Mary Jane Maffini said...

Thanks so much, Mary! Great advice. I do have a touch of S.A.D. and have found that exercise is a huge help. I have also had good results from a full-spectrum light. Haven't needed it this year, but it's been a great investment.


Hugs,.

MJ/VA

mary kennedy said...

I think it's wonderful that you've come up with some strategies! Most of my clients say that morning is the worst, they can hardly drag themselves out of bed. Sometimes I say, "I know it's awful, but tell yourself that you will feel 50% better if you get up and have something hot to drink." I wish I knew why more women than men have mood disorders. As you know, there are many theories. Some people say it is biological and hormones play a part. Others say that women have an "over-active" amygdla, the part of the brain that processes emotions. And still other say that women are less likely to "medicate" themselves with alcohol and risky behaviors, so they suffer the full range of depressive symptoms. I wish I knew the answer...and yes, women are much more likely to admit to depression, anxiety, phobias, etc. Men try to tough it out, I've found. At least, some men. Thanks for stopping by!

mary kennedy said...

HI MJ, thanks so much for stopping by and for sharing this post! I'm glad you had good luck with light therapy, it can really help!! Hugs!

mary kennedy said...

Oh , no!! Sorry it is snowing there. It is just bitterly cold here...that is bad enough!

Anonymous said...

Mary---I know about the special lamps made for S.A.D. sufferers but wondered if the new CFL and LED light bulbs that replicate natural light rather than yellow also work because they would be cheaper and easier to get. Cordella

Rachelle21 said...

I don't know if I have had S.A.D. or not but I found that since I started taking Vitamin D each day, I don't seem to feel the same way I did before I took them. There is a test for your level of D but the female practitioner I was seeing feels most women did more D and tells her patients to try it.

Ann Mettert said...

I've been diagnosed with SAD. I can't use the light, it gives me a migraine. The meds they tried didn't work. So I just have to make sure I get sunshine when I can and vitamin D.
Sometimes I feel all blah and wonder if I'm coming down with something. Then I realize it's been gray way too many days and that's my problem. Last winter with all the snow storms and bring stuck inside was very hard.

mary kennedy said...

That's an interesting idea!! I wish I had the answer right now but I don't. I can check with a psychiatrist pal and see what he thinks. He's a big advocate of the lamps and always urges insurance companies to pick up the cost. (some do and some don't. I wish they all did.)

mary kennedy said...

I should have mentioned Vitamin D, Rachelle, most people are horribly deficient in it!! That is a wonderful idea and I am so glad you mentioned it. Thanks for stopping by and bringing up this very important point.

mary kennedy said...

HI Ann, sounds like last winter was very rough for you! Hope this brutal weather ends and we have an early Spring. It would certainly lift our spirits, thanks for stopping by.