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Coping with SAD

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

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  • SAD is a spectrum disorder

    SAD is a spectrum disorder

Written by andrea bennett

Thomas Wharton’s Icefields may not have won Canada Reads 2008, but the icefields do seem to have won on the sidewalks this year. It’s been a snowy, icy winter, and just as the sun has started rising when I do (about 7am), we’re preparing to spring forward.

The Mood Disorders Society of Canada reports that about 2-4% of the Canadian population suffer from SAD, but many people are affected by the low light and cold temperatures of the winter season.

Why does SAD happen?

The basic theory is that lower light levels present in the winter time lead to lower levels of either serotonin or melatonin, leading to depression. This is probably exacerbated by the fact that many of us spend our daylight hours indoors at school or work; historically, it would have made sense for humans in northern climates to spend their springs, summers, and falls preparing food and firewood for the winter season. These days, we rely a little more on the grocery store, or CSAs – or maybe you do grow, prepare, and can your food. Either way, the glow of our computers does not provide us with the vitamin D we’d get from the sun, and our work schedules don’t generally allow us the flexibility of taking it a little bit easier in the winter.

Like the standard type of depression, SAD occurs on a spectrum. Some people may have less energy and want to sleep more, and they may gain weight. Others, who suffer more severely in the winter time, may experience the mood-related symptoms: loss of interest in their social and school lives, feelings of hopelessness and sadness, irritability, and trouble concentrating on tasks.

So how can people cope with SAD?

Light therapy is probably the most effective treatment of SAD. People coping with SAD purchase a lightbox - costing anywhere from $100 and up - or a dawn simulator. The lightbox can be used at any time during the day, and treatment consists of sitting in front of the box for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. The dawn simulator is used daily when waking and falling asleep.

Exercise and fresh air: SAD causes most people to want to hibernate. Often, the first step towards feeling better is to work some fresh air and exercise into your day - this is especially helpful during daylight hours. If you generally take the bus to school or work, it might be a good idea to walk for some of the week instead.

For those who suffer from serious cases, antidepressants may be helpful - or they may not be. There are several types of antidepressants on the market, but SSRIs (Selective Seratonin Reuptake Inhibitors) like Prozac, Celexa, Paxil, and Zoloft, are probably the most common. Antidepressants can have serious side effects like sleeplessness, digestion problems, or tremor. Some side effects dissipate after a few weeks as your body gets used to the drug; others linger.

And, like any mood disorder, it’s important to take your concerns to a trusted health professional – whether that’s a doctor, psychiatrist, or naturopath is your choice.

And just remember, it’s only 14 more days til the Spring Equinox!

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  1. Posted by: Sarah on Mar 7, 2008 @ 12:11am

    Your anti-pharmaceutical bias is showing...

  2. Posted by: j_ on Mar 9, 2008 @ 12:32am

    naturopath, lol

  3. Posted by: Kristyn on Mar 10, 2008 @ 2:32am

    Hey, no one tells you how devastating the drugs can be until you experience the side effects yourself. There is a lot of faith in these products, and while many people DO need them to function day-to-day, and they DO save lives and make lives livable, they will never make for normality. It's always a gamble of which is less livable: the original symptoms or the side effects.

    ESPECIALLY with S.A.D., there are effective alternate preventative measures and coping strategies. I went through reams of counseling and tried both Paxil and Celexa for severe anxiety and depression before I knew the cause. Because of the situations I was living in, I was not prepared to cope and slipped into crippling anxiety so fast medication was my only option. I was grateful for the medication at the time, but now I know ways to keep it from getting to that point.

    For years I was convinced that 'depression' just meant you didn't have the drive get out of bed and your grades slipped and you were just too lazy to overcome feeling down, so I figured, so long as I kept up all my athletics and grades, I wasn't technically depressed. Lived for years like that till it came to a breaking point spending the winter in a basement bedroom.

  4. Posted by: kristyn on Mar 10, 2008 @ 2:33am

    Now I know what I'm dealing with and how to lessen the severity: not living in a basement, not working nights. I have a lightbox and am not afraid to seek reassurance from friends. I 'outed' my S.A.D. when before the anxiety would consume me so soon I was too anxious to let on to anyone the hell I was living in. Mental illness still has a prominent societal stigma, but somehow S.A.D. seems easier to digest, less threatening, more definable.

  5. Posted by: kristyn on Mar 10, 2008 @ 2:33am

    By all means, try to avoid having to take pharmaceuticals. The side effects are ghastly. But if it's a choice of dry mouth, tremors, constipation, anorgasmia and inability to feel highs or lows--or stuck in a panic so intense you'd throw yourself off a bridge to escape it, well, the former is going to seem a lot more appealing.

  6. Posted by: Sarah on Mar 14, 2008 @ 11:37pm

    Good comments, all.

    I have had not too bad luck with anti-depressants, I don't seem to get side effects. That being said, I would love to get to a point where I can just accept anxiety/depression without feeling like it is entirely crippling/devastating to me, and then be off the medications.

    I just accept the reality that medication can be helpful, so any outright dismissal of this option to me is offensive as it is a reality I have dealt with for many years now.

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