. . . the right care at the right time

Facing the reality of feeling SAD

Eli head shotBy Eli Zaret, New Oakland Community Liaison

I felt the first wave of sadness when I woke up on the first Sunday of daylight savings time. I thought, “What good is another hour of daylight this morning ifSAD2

I’m just going to get robbed of it when it gets dark at 5:30 this afternoon? We’re not ‘saving’ anything. We’re just trading morning darkness for afternoon darkness.” My cynicism continued, “And the days will only get  darker and colder — and — can I make it through another winter?”

My sadness is exactly that — “SAD” — Seasonal Affective Disorder — which, unfortunately, is as natural as the sun, moon, air and water. People suffer from it worldwide, though some worse than others and some not at all. As the name implies, SAD can take place at the change of any season, but it’s most common at daylight savings time when you put the lawnmower away, break out the winter coat and envision the imposing cold grayness of winter.

The key for all of us is to understand that reduced exposure to energy infusing daylight causes changes in brain chemistry and can cause overwhelming sadness in as much as 20% of us. In extreme cases, people feel such despair that it profoundly affects their daily functioning.

Serotonin is the chemical in the brain that keeps our spirits high. Anti-depression drugs stimulate and control serotonin levels, and those who suffer from SAD show significant differences than the rest of the population in how their brains regulate serotonin levels.

There are 4 kinds of SAD people:

  • Those who use light therapy to cope with it
  • Those who get medication to deal with it
  • Those who fight through it
  • Those whose bodies better regulate serotonin and simply aren’t affected

Here are the proven ways to combat SAD: 

  • Schedule social activities throughout the fall and winter
  • Vacation to a sunny places when possible
  • Connect your bedroom light to a timer that will come on before the sun comes up
  • Get outside and walk whenever you can to experience as much light as possible
  • Avoid carbohydrate laden foods that spike and then drop sugar levels that affect moods
  • See a doctor or therapist for advice and or treatment

And please — don’t use tanning beds. Skin cancer is worse that SAD!

The upcoming holidays can also cause additional problems for SAD sufferers. They feel overwhelmed with the demands of shopping, financial pressure, family obligations and a slew of  commitments. Besides the depression it causes, some suffer headaches, over-eat and drinking, experience sleep disruption or over-sleeping and have bouts of irritability.

To circle back, when I walked the dog that first Sunday of daylight savings time and the wave of sadness hit me, I asked myself the same question I ask every year: “And why is it that I still live here and put up with this?” After a few uncomfortable moments, I gave myself the same annual pep talk: “I live here because my friends, colleagues, family, house and work is here.” Feeling somewhat empowered, I conclude by saying to myself: “I will survive this winter as I have all others. I will commit to exercising, eating well, keeping the lights bright and getting away when I can. And yes, spring, and all the good that comes with it, will return in due time.”