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Seasonal Affective Disorder Self-Care

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) tends to affect a lot of people  — particularly for people with a history of depression and anxiety. Be mindful of your energy levels and your mood as the days get colder and gloomier in Cape Town, and try to implement the tips in the article to keep the SAD at bay.

If you’ve noticed that you’ve lost the skip in your step that you normally have in those nice, warm summer months, you might be struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

SAD is when you feel depressed starting in the fall or winter, but that depression is resolved by spring or summer. It’s not just a longing for summer and warmer weather, but rather a clinical condition. Just because you’ve had SAD before, or think it will resolve soon, doesn’t mean you should delay treatment or seeking help.

SAD symptoms can vary from person to person, but in general, the symptoms are similar to depression. SAD is a form of depression, but the distinguishing factor is that it resolves by spring or summer. 

SAD symptoms can include:

  • Low, depressed mood
  • Loss of interest in things that you were previously interested in, like hobbies
  • Reduced social activity (more prone to stay at home)
  • Fluctuations in appetite (decreased or increased)
  • Fatigue (not wanting to get out of bed or being tired despite getting enough sleep)
  • Insomnia (trouble falling asleep or staying asleep)
  • Elevated levels of inflammation 
  • Lower serotonin levels (a hormone that affects your mood, appetite and sleep)

The Importance Of Light For SAD Sufferers

Light plays a crucial role in regulating our mood and sleep patterns. During the darker months, reduced sunlight exposure can disrupt our circadian rhythm, leading to imbalances in serotonin and melatonin levels. Serotonin is a hormone that affects mood, while melatonin regulates sleep. Without adequate sunlight, our bodies may produce less serotonin and more melatonin, resulting in feelings of depression and fatigue. This makes light therapy an essential treatment for those suffering from SAD – both a SAD lamp as well as Red Light Therapy.

SAD therapy lamps and LED devices differ in some key ways. SAD lamps are used to brighten a room and give the impression of more sunlight. Red Light Therapy panels actually deliver red and near-infrared (NIR) light to a person’s body and cells for a physiological benefit like enhanced ATP energy production, which is great for combating SAD. 

SAD Lamp Light Therapy

Research has shown that light therapy, which mimics sunshine in dark months, can help regulate serotonin levels and decrease depression. By turning on a 10,000-lux light box (which is about 20 times brighter than a standard indoor light bulb), the body is able to stay more alert. Just turn it off and use blue-light glasses when it’s actually time to start winding down. Combining a light box with red light therapy is extra beneficial.

Red Light Therapy

This therapy involves exposure to low-level red wavelengths of light, which penetrate the skin and stimulate cellular activity. Red Light Therapy can positively impact mood by modulating neurotransmitter levels such as serotonin and dopamine, enhancing brain circulation and oxygenation, optimizing mitochondrial function, reducing inflammation, and regulating circadian rhythms. By stimulating these physiological mechanisms, Red Light Therapy can help alleviate symptoms of depression, including those associated with SAD, offering a non-invasive approach to improving mood and emotional well-being.

Other Ways To Manage The Colder And Gloomier Days 

Exercise

As hard as it can be to get out and exercise when you feel depressed, it can be helpful for SAD symptoms. You don’t have to work out intensely or even for that long to reap the benefits, either. Focus on activities that feel good and enjoyable to you, and keep in mind that exercise can help you release powerful hormones and chemicals that help you feel better. Exercise increases endorphins, our feel-good neurochemicals. It can also help increase dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that helps us feel motivation and reward.

Resolve Nutrient Deficiencies

One deficiency in particular that can be related to winter blues is iron. Iron deficiency, or not having adequate iron stores, can often contribute to depression in general. You want to make sure your ferritin levels are between 30-200 ng/mL. Anything lower can contribute to a mood issue, especially if you are menstruating, since having a period can make you more prone to losing iron. There are also a lot of foods that are rich sources of iron, like grass-fed beef, chicken, spinach, oysters, and quinoa. If you are vegan or vegetarian, you can still get iron through plant sources, but adding vitamin C (such as a squeeze of lemon or some bell peppers) to those plants can help your body absorb the iron better. 

Supplements

Once you see a doctor for SAD, they may suggest that you add some supplements to help with your symptoms and to resolve the root issue that may be behind it. (Don’t forget that it’s important to take supplements that your own doctor or health coach recommends for you.) Here are three that can be helpful:

  • Tryptophan is one of the few supplements that has been studied in SAD. Tryptophan is an amino acid and is the precursor to serotonin which is our happiness hormone.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids have been studied for depression and brain health. The research suggests that EPA may actually be more helpful than DHA, but they likely complement each other. 
  • Magnesium plays a crucial role in brain function and mood regulation, and deficiencies have been linked to increased risk of depression.

Spend Time Outdoors 

On average, we spend 90% our time in doors. Spending time outdoors can have a significant positive impact on mood. Exposure to natural sunlight stimulates the production of vitamin D in the skin, which is essential for mood regulation. Sunlight exposure also helps regulate the body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm, promoting better sleep patterns and overall well-being. Additionally, being in nature has been linked to reduced levels of stress, anxiety, and depression, with studies suggesting that spending time in green spaces can improve mood and cognitive function. 

SAD tends to affect a lot of people — particularly for people with a history of depression and anxiety. Be mindful of your energy levels and your mood as the days get darker, and try to implement the tips above to keep the SAD at bay. 

Interested in booking a session or package of Red Light Therapy sessions?

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