“New Beginnings” Welcoming Spring and Better Health
May 16, 2018
Congratulations, April is over, you have made it through winter! Prevail headquarters are working with the windows open, and singing along with the chirping birds and honking horns. The sun is shining, Chicagoans are no longer hiding in huge winter coats, and iced coffee is back. Perhaps you have noticed a certain spring in your step lately too (pun intended). Somehow, just like the flowers, people are blooming too.
Yes, you can thank the weather. Sunshine directly influences serotonin levels in our brains – more sunshine means better moods. Like you have already experienced, more sunshine means more positive moods overall. Yet weather does not control our emotions, it is one of many situational factors that contributes to your daily life and overall well-being. One sunny day does not cure depression; one rainy day does not cause depression. Only consistent days with reduced exposure to sunlight significantly affects serotonin levels. Winter, for example, can seriously affect a person’s mood. Sometimes this effect is no more than the normal cabin blues and lifts with the first chirp of spring. For others, recurring and harmful winter blues can indicate a more serious side effect of the cold – seasonal affective disorder.
Aptly abbreviated SAD, seasonal affective disorder results from a lack of sunlight. With shortened daylight hours and bitter colds, our circadian rhythms and serotonin levels are disrupted. SAD applies to individuals who experience abnormal depressed moods and change in behaviors. Like Major Depressive Disorder, individuals with SAD may have trouble getting out of the bed in the morning, insomnia or hypersomnia, overeating, carbohydrate cravings, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, isolation, and depressed mood. The symptoms emerge in winter, and disappear in spring. For a SAD diagnosis, individuals must have experienced these symptoms for 2 or more recurring years. Some individuals may even experience hypomania, or excess positivity, in the summer. Hypomania seems to be the opposite of depression – overblown optimism, rapid thoughts and speech, energetic, short-tempered, and impulsive.
While many people experienced decreased moods in the winter, only those who are susceptible may experience SAD. SAD is a subtype of Major Depressive Disorder, and most research has been performed in Western countries, those farther from the equator. Therefore, it only seems to affect those who are susceptible to it – people already experiencing depression, and those who receive less sunlight. While increasing exposure to sunlight seems like a simple solution for SAD, unfortunately therapists cannot control the weather. Instead, therapists invited their own sunlight, in the form of light therapy. Light therapy aims to reduce the disruptions of circadian rhythm and serotonin but replacing sunlight with special lamps. These cool-white fluorescent lamps are used early in the mornings and in the evening, to mimic the normal sunlight a person experience in the summer season, like the light exposure never changed.
However light therapy is not the only treatment for SAD, but instead supports an individual in addition to psychotherapy, CBT, or medication. For people who are concerned their winter blues are more serious than usual, individuals should be sure they are taking care of all areas of their health – physical, social, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and occupational. Of course, individuals can always seek out help or more information about SAD from a doctor or trusted peer. iPrevail peers are always available and happy to answer your questions! In fact, now that April showers are over and May flowers are here, we are more than happy to talk! We at iPrevail hope you all can take a moment to smell the roses.
Remember you can always connect with us on social media as well!
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Sarran, Albers, Sachon, & Meesters. (2017). Meteorological analysis of symptom data for people with seasonal affective disorder. Psychiatry Research, 257, 501-505.
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Tyrer, A., Levitan, R., Houle, S., Wilson, A., Nobrega, J., Rusjan, P., & Meyer, J. (2016). Serotonin transporter binding is reduced in seasonal affective disorder following light therapy. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 134(5), 410-419.