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Seasonal Affective Disorder
Strategies and Suggestions for managing Seasonal Affective Disorder
“I’m so irritable, I don’t want to see anyone.”
“Even double shots of espresso aren’t improving my energy.”
These are often the comments that health practitioners in Portland hear from November to May. Chinese medicine calls this the yin portion of the cycle of the year--dark, nourishing and restful, pregnant with promise.
When the chilly damp comes to stay, caffeine intake tends to increase among Portlanders. Cloudy days make it more difficult to get motivated to exercise regularly or make plans to go out with friends. Resolutions set for the new year start to dwindle and watching television on the couch seems more inviting. People may not even notice that they are in a state of hibernation until a brief visit from the sun reveals it.
The grey expansiveness of the rainy season has given its name to a condition that affects people in many of the same ways as clinical depression. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is characterized by a loss of sunlight causing lowered levels of serotonin and vitamin D. The low light in the Pacific Northwest winters also heightens levels of melatonin, a naturally occurring serotonin suppressor which causes drowsiness. Common symptoms of SAD include fatigue, isolation, oversleeping, foggy concentration, irritability, PMS, carbohydrate craving and sometimes the inability to enjoy usually pleasurable activities.
Some suggestions for coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder:
- Increase the amount of full spectrum light indoors—light bulbs are available at many local stores or more expensive light therapy boxes can be purchased from companies like Enviro-Med. Exposure to a light source for 30 minutes in the morning can signal the body to stop producing melatonin.
- Make a commitment to regular body work—acupuncture, massage and nutritional counseling can help treat SAD.
- Decrease alcohol and caffeine consumption (one of each daily at most) to support adrenal glands.
- Add fish and whole grains to diet; avoid sugar and processed foods
- Take a vitamin supplement with 400IU of Vitamin D—recent studies are showing that Vitamin D is actually a hormone with receptors throughout the body and people experiencing a deficiency may need up to 800IU. The body also needs Calcium and Magnesium to process Vitamin D.
- Take a vitamin B complex—B vitamins are most effective if taken in a complex. A liquid form of vitamin B is most easily absorbed by the body, but please follow the recommended dosage exactly to prevent a niacin flush.
- Regular exercise is a must—physical activity can help to regulate neurotransmitter levels. When outdoor exercise options are limited, there are many gyms, yoga or dance classes and martial arts studios available to join for indoor exercise.
- Make getting outside on sunny days a priority, even if just taking a short walk at lunchtime
- Herbal supplements such as St. John’s Wort, Cordyceps or 5HTP can beneficial if monitored by a health care practitioner to regulate dosage and negative interactions with other medications.
An additional amount of respite during the winter months in the Pacific Northwest is both healthy and sensible. Responding to seasonal influences is a natural part of living in the cycles of a place. However, the experiences of consistent exhaustion and despondency are signs that there may be more going on than an inherent response to a seasonal cycle. If not addressed, SAD has the potential to become a more severe case of depression. Please consult a health care practitioner if you are concerned that you or someone you love is struggling with depression.
Chinese medicine states that humans are meant to float peacefully in the yin time of the year, cradled in the dark and building energy in preparation for the increase of the yang. This period of restoration allows the greeting of the sunlight with open arms and gratitude when it returns for its portion of the cycle. For questions or further information about SAD, Chinese medicine or acupuncture, please contact me at 503-754-8802 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gerri Ravyn Stanfield is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist who practices at the Common Ground Wellness Center at the Flanders location.
Learn more about the author, Gerri Ravyn Stanfield.
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- seasonal affective disorder