Maybe you’ve heard of SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder and have some vague idea what it is. Let’s take a look at it and what you can do to cope with it.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD, is a type of depression brought on by changes in the seasons and more specifically, shortening of the day cycle and shortening the hours that you are exposed to sunlight. As the days get shorter and the nights get longer, some people, every year, start to exhibit signs of depression: difficulty focusing, feeling irritable, disruption of normal sleep patterns, or changes in appetite. These people feel unwell, but they can’t necessarily tell you why.
While the disorder is not well understood, there are higher rates of occurrence in areas far from the equator where the days are very short in winter. It is worth noting that since Peru is below the equator, the seasons are the reverse of what is typical in North America or Europe, and December is mid-summer for us in Iquitos.
How Can I Help Myself?
There are lots of things you can do to help yourself. The first thing is to recognize it if you have it and seek help if your symptoms are interfering with your normal life. If you are so depressed that you are not functioning well day to day or if you are contemplating suicide, then you need professional help fast.
If your symptoms are milder, then light therapy seems to help. There are a number of light devices available that simulate sunshine. All you have to do is sit in front of them for a prescribed amount per day. The good news is that these devices are very bright, so it’s easy to read by them or do other work or crafts nearby.
Another possibility is to take Vitamin D. Definitely discuss this with your family doctor, but if you aren’t getting enough sunshine, and you aren’t eating Vitamin D-fortified foods, then you may not be getting enough. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin normally formed in the skin when we’re in the sun. If there’s no sun, then you’re not getting it. And Vitamin D is important in all kinds of body functions from growth and metabolism to helping with your immunity. How much Vitamin D should you take? Well that’s debatable, so discuss it with your family doctor.
In fact, anything that helps depression in general will help Seasonal Affective Disorder like exercise, eating well, and good sleep hygiene.
If you’re having the winter blues, come and visit us in Peru, where the North American winter is our summer! There’s plenty of sunlight to be had down here.
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