As a psychotherapist, this is my busiest time of year. Why? Because a lot of people are feeling really blue and don’t understand why. They come to me feeling desperate in the hopes that I will help them get their “pep” back. Living here on the “Wet Coast” predisposes many of us to seasonal depression, otherwise known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This is a very common form of depression, which is only noticeable during those months where there is very little sunlight (like now!). Why are we so susceptible to SAD out West? It’s because we tend to get a lot less sunshine than other parts of the world at this time of year and we experience dark, grey days for months at a time. I have worked with clients who have moved here from very sunny places such as Australia who never experienced “depression” before in their lives until they spent a winter on Vancouver Island!
Symptoms of SAD
The symptoms of SAD commonly occur every year between September and November and continue until March or April. Symptoms often include a number of the following:
Oversleeping and difficulty staying awake but, in some cases, disturbed sleep and early morning wakening.
Feeling of fatigue and inability to carry out normal routine.
Craving for carbohydrates and sweet foods, usually resulting in weight gain.
Feelings of misery, guilt and loss of self-esteem, sometimes hopelessness and despair, sometimes apathy.
Irritability and avoidance of social contact.
Tension and inability to tolerate stress.
Loss of libido:
Decreased interest in sex and physical contact.
In some sufferers, extremes of mood and short periods ofhypomania (overactivity) in spring and autumn.
*adapted from The Seasonal Affective Disorder Association’s website:www.sada.org.uk
If you identify readily with all or most of the above symptoms and you’ve experienced them every winter for at least three consecutive years, chances are you are suffering from SAD. Luckily, there can be great relief found from a variety of non-invasive modalities available. I will outline those that the majority of my clients struggling with SAD have found most helpful:
ESTHER’S TOP THREE TOOLS TO MINIMIZE SYMPTOMS OF S.A.D.:
Recent research has shown that 85% of people diagnosed with SAD have been helped by light therapy. This involves being exposed to very bright light (at least ten times the intensity of household lighting) first thing in the morning for 15-30 minutes every day. Look into getting a special light used to treat SAD. The one I use and recommend constantly to my clients is called the Litebook Elite. It’s small, lightweight (8 oz), and durable. The great thing about light therapy is that it is safe, has no side effects, and is easy to use.
A 2001 study by the Duke University, in North Carolina, found exercise a more effective treatment for depression than antidepressants, with fewer relapses and a higher recovery rate. Researchers say a chemical in the brain called serotonin may be the key. People suffering from depression have low levels of serotonin, and exercise can boost those levels. Find an exercise routine you enjoy and can commit to at least three times a week. Make sure it’s active enough to get your heart rate up and your blood pumping- this boosts serotonin levels and leaves you feeling more upbeat and positive.
Engaging in regular sessions with a psychotherapist who specializes in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy to treat various forms of depression will give you the tools you need to retrain your brain from negative to positive thinking. When combined with other modalities of healing, this can provide much relief from SAD. Practise lots of positive self-talk- much of depression is a result of what we say to ourselves- we need to learn to ‘think happy’: when we do this, the brain follows suit. If you’d rather learn this on your own, I suggest you pick up a copy of David Burn’s classic self-help guide to overcoming depression, “The Feeling Good Handbook”. This is a wonderful resource and can be helpful to anyone who needs to change his or her thinking from negative to positive.