WORK-LIFE BALANCE / FEB. 22, 2014
version 14, draft 14

Seasonal Affective Disorder on the Rise This Winter

The heavy amount of snow, ice and cold in many parts of the nation is setting records. Atlanta, Georgia and surrounding states would be one case in point. Nasty weather tends to make people want to stay indoors, and that combined with the shorter days of winter can mean trouble for those in the workplace and at home who suffer from a form of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). 
 
SAD is not an ailment that shows up more often for those in one career over another. It is a seasonal ailment. It usually starts to hit people around late autumn, and persists until about April or May. It is possible for someone to experience Seasonal Affective Disorder starting in spring and going into the summer, but not as likely because the biggest culprit that experts believe is its cause is a lack of sunlight. With the unusually high amounts of snow, ice and cold that have impacted most of the nation this winter, healthcare providers are noticing a significant amount of Seasonal Affective Disorder, and many believe the severe winter weather is causing an increase in it this year.

Symptoms of the ailment include depression, hopelessness, anxiety, loss of energy, heavy “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs, social withdraw, oversleeping, loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed, appetite changes (especially craving foods high in carbs like white breads and white pastas), weight gain and difficulty concentrating.

Healthcare professionals aren’t really sure what causes it, but they have noticed that it does seem to run in families. While anyone can come down with SAD, it seems to be most prevalent in people between the ages of 15-55, and it seems to strike women more often than men. The chances of a person getting it decrease with age.

About 80 percent of people suffering from depression experience some level of inability to function. This of course means they will need to use their paid sick leave or paid time off more frequently than their coworkers. Over the course of a three month period, that can mean an average of about 4.8 work days are missed due to that depression, with 11.5 days of reduced productivity. So having a successful career in any vocation can become a challenge, and a near impossibility for those who are undiagnosed or aren’t aware of their treatment options. Depending on the severity of SAD that a person faces, changes in lifestyle or career in order to gain relief can range from simple diet and exercise to moving to another part of the country.
  
One of the less dramatic options for relief is a treatment called “light therapy.” The idea is to make sure you get outside as often as possible when the sun is out, because the natural light helps alleviate the symptoms. On days when there isn’t any sunlight, there are specialized lamps called light boxes that can be purchased that can help. In fact, it can help people to start feeling better in as little as a week, but being persistent in using it is key to keeping SAD at bay.

While antidepressants are sometimes prescribed to help bring relief from Seasonal Affective Disorder, there are also natural foods and vitamins that can help. Low serotonin is believed to play into Seasonal Affective Disorder. Serotonin is a hormone that the body manufactures which impacts mood and also the nervous system. Some of the foods that can help the body manufacture it include turkey, chicken, tuna, salmon, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, baked potato with the skin on, lentils, and various other beans to name just a few.

Vitamin supplements that may help combat it include vitamin B complex, and vitamin D. One of the reasons why SAD is less likely in the spring and summer is because people are outside more, which usually includes spending a bit of time in the sun. The sun will cause the body to manufacture vitamin D naturally, but during the fall and winter months when people are out less, their bodies don’t get that opportunity.

Another natural way to fight SAD is by getting some exercise. Usually 30 minutes three days a week will be enough. The exercise releases endorphins in the brain which are also natural mood enhancers. 

One other possibility for a person interested in trying to grow and develop in their career might be to consider moving to a state with a warmer, sunnier climate. Hopefully, this will not mean that a person is unable to find a job in their desired career. But in severe cases, the trade-off of finding a new career may be worth the turmoil of moving and finding that new direction. SAD tends to affect people in northern states more frequently than in warmer, sunnier southern states. In the south, the amount of sunlight in the winter isn’t reduced as much as in the northern states. Also, the fact that southern states usually have milder winters would mean that it would be easier for a person to get out and exercise and hopefully, take back their life.

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