The leaves are falling, there is a brisk feel to the air, and the clocks are falling back to daylight savings time. These are sure signs of fall and the winter months to follow. Most people dread the short cold winter days and long nights. However, this is the time of year that it is imperative that you stay healthy. Unlike the bears who hibernate during winter, humans need to step up thoughts of good nutrition and exercise. The most common geographic areas that SAD is prevalent are the upper north where there are limited hours of sunshine.

Seasonal Affective Disorder  (SAD) affects up to 9% of the US population. This is a disorder that is commonly triggered by falling temperatures and lack of sunshine during the winter months. Most persons who are affected by SAD have no symptoms during the spring or summer months when there is more daylight and outdoor activities are abundant.

Some of the symptoms of SAD include depression, excessive sleeping, lack of energy, weight gain, fatigue and difficulty concentrating. The symptoms can come and go, but are more noticeable during times when the daylight is shortest (typically December and January).  Some persons who suffer from SAD may require counseling or hospitalization if the symptoms become severe.

There are several treatments for SAD- but if the symptoms become severe, or thoughts of suicide arise, the person should seek medical attention immediately.

Some suggestions for preventing and helping persons experiencing SAD:

  • Outdoor activity — get outside and participate in physical activity. Go for a walk at lunchtime when the sun is typically the brightest. Participate in outdoor winter sports, such as snowshoeing, skiing, ice skating or sledding. Raking leaves in the sunshine is a great activity, and will also help to keep the weight off. Any physical activity that is in the sunshine will help.
  • If you cannot get out in the sunshine, some people benefit from full spectrum light therapy. This is a special light that can be found in many stores and set up in the home or office. Although full spectrum light does not take the place of sunshine, it is much more effective that a typical light bulb.
  • Good nutrition- Weight gain is very common during the winter months. This is a time that focus on healthy nutrition is essential. Try to avoid processed foods (chips, snacks) and foods containing gluten (breads, cookies, cake, etc).  Focus on lean meats (chicken, fish, pork, beef, etc), vegetables, fruits, and nuts (unless allergic). Fill the plate with steamed vegetables and lean protein.  Avoid high fat, high calorie deserts (such as pie, cake and cookies) and treat yourself to fresh fruit instead. A small serving of high quality dark chocolate has antioxidants that can actually help mood.
  • If the symptoms of SAD become out of control, the advice of a health care professional is necessary. Don’t be afraid to talk with your health care provider about your symptoms- we are here to help!