“The thrill is gone, it’s gone away from me. Although I’ll still live on, but so lonely I’ll be.” (Musician B. B. King)
As the Earth tilts on its axis away from the sun and the gray time of year begins, how many of us get the blues? While estimates vary with geographic location, Alaska has an established rate of 8.9% of its population who are affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder, commonly and aptly known as SAD.
December 21 is known as the “Longest Night” due to the highest number of hours of darkness. Many faith communities hold special services to comfort those who are feeling this sense of bereavement, whether because of life circumstances or seasonal changes.
Winter-onset SAD symptoms can include depression, lack of energy, moodiness, a sense of hopelessness, a heavy sensation in the arms and legs, difficulty concentrating, apathy, social withdrawal, oversleeping, loss of pleasure in favorite activities, appetite changes, and cravings for carbohydrates. SAD can develop as we grow older and is more common in women than men. (Note: There is a Spring/Summer variety of SAD with different symptoms.) Have you begun to notice seasonal changes in yourself or in a loved one? Although everyone has down days occasionally, it is important to see your doctor if symptoms continue or get worse.
While the exact cause of SAD has not been determined, researchers are studying the effects of reduced levels of sunlight on our circadian body rhythms, our brain chemical serotonin, and our natural hormone melatonin. There are different types of treatment options available. One very common and popular avenue is the use of a light box, as prescribed by a physician. These boxes simulate daylight, which can cause a change in brain chemistry that improves mood with regulated exposure. Reduction of symptoms can occur within several days, with few resulting side effects. For individuals with severe symptoms, ionized air administration, medication, and psychotherapy also can be prescribed. Learning coping skills can help to combat negativity, deal with stress, and manage moods and emotions,
By making lifestyle and environmental changes, some symptoms may be improved. Let as much daylight into your home as possible, go for a walk or sit out in a sheltered area on sunny days. Exercising and eating a healthy diet can reduce stress and anxiety while lifting your mood. Consider mind/body therapies such as yoga, massage, acupuncture and more. Avoid self medicating with alcohol. To beat the blues, make it a point to get out and socialize. If you are able, take a trip to a warm and sunny location.
“It makes no difference whether you’re young or old. All you got to do is get together and let the good times roll.” (Musician Ray Charles)