For many people, gazing out the window is a pleasant event. Birds, trees, and the sky all bring smiles. But for Melissa Lewis, 47, of Prescott, Ariz., it had a different effect.
“When I lived in Minnesota, I remember looking outside and thinking to myself, ‘Oh, no. No sun today? No sun tomorrow?” Every year from early fall to early March, she deals with severe fatigue. She just wants to sleep until spring comes. “I felt trapped,” she said.
Lewis was later diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a depression that affects 10 million people in the United States. It is most common in fall and winter, when the days are shorter and there is less sunlight on the skin. It can be mistaken for other problems. You can also eat it in spring or summer. “In a paradoxical way, people with spring and summer seasonal affective disorder may be exposed to too much light,” says Rebecca Brendel, MD, JD, president of the American Psychiatric Association Say.
different from “winter blues”
You can be depressed in winter and not have SAD. However, if extreme fatigue persists for several days and is accompanied by other symptoms, you may want to consult your doctor to find out the cause, whether it is SAD or something else.
Lewis is well aware of this. Every year, when the days get shorter, she finds she doesn’t want to go about her daily activities. She also felt sluggish and had a strong craving to eat. “I couldn’t get enough starchy carbohydrates,” she says. These symptoms can last from a few days to a few months and only ease when the sun starts staying out for longer periods of time.
Years later, after several doctors, a naturopathic doctor recommended that Lewis be tested for seasonal affective disorder. Before that, she saw doctor after doctor and tried treatments that didn’t work. She has tried to conduct her own research, but has been unsuccessful. “I just remember reading one book about seasonal affective disorder,” she said. “I know it’s not normal. But I’m a busy mom, recently divorced, like a lot of moms…my kids and everyone else come first.”
Lewis said her GP ran tests to rule out other conditions, a process that led to her SAD diagnosis. “I was tested a lot. My vitamin D levels were low,” she said. “I grew up with an autoimmune disease and later learned I had ADHD, but nothing explained my seasonal depression.”
Even if you don’t have SAD, it’s a good idea to seek help for winter symptoms, says Brendel. If you are a caregiver, family member or friend, please pay attention to your loved ones. “If someone isn’t at the holiday party or is just uncomfortable, it’s a good idea to ask them how they’re doing,” she said. “If symptoms continue to cause problems day in and day out, contact your doctor. Seeking help doesn’t mean it’s a seasonal affective disorder diagnosis, but persistent sleep or depression problems should still be addressed.”
exclude other causes
Symptoms of SAD vary from person to person. They also appear in other situations. Doctors therefore rule out other problems before making a diagnosis of SAD, as Lewis’ GP did.
“The first thing we do is make sure there are no underlying medical conditions,” Blundell said. “We do a [thyroid] Functional tests or look for things like anemia, which can make you really tired. We recommend getting a basic medical checkup and checking for other mood disorders, such as bipolar depression. Whatever we find, we take seriously. “
Treatment is fairly standard for people with seasonal affective disorder. “I recommend that people with SAD spend as much time outdoors as possible in the sun,” says Atlanta psychiatrist Valdesha DeJean, MD. “Phototherapy lamps can help by re-creating the sun environment, but should be used in the correct dose and time frame. In some cases, we also prescribe antidepressants.”
Lewis found the greatest relief in several alternative treatments. “I’ve had success with acupuncture, supplements (5-HTP) and red light therapy.” While studies are still needed to see if it works for SAD, Lewis says red light therapy helped her quickly. Like many others, she has also found that getting outside in the sun is still one of the best medicines – something her GP and many doctors strongly recommend for people with SAD.
“I make sure I have time outside,” Lewis said. “I go for a walk or just sit outside. It’s really helpful.” Turned into family talk. “My kids learn that I have SAD and that sleep and physical activity are a family priority. They also learn a higher level of empathy and compassion.”
If you’re in a climate that doesn’t get much sun? “I would encourage people to go to warmer climates in the winter if possible,” DeJean said. “Now is a great time to take advantage of these holidays.”
Lewis said she has seen tremendous improvement since moving from Minnesota to sunny Arizona. But no matter where you live, she says focusing on her health is how she gets through the toughest days. “The most important thing is to look at your life differently,” she says. “Your body talks to you. It talks to you all the time.”
Lewis made a few other changes that helped her.
Nutrition is her top priority. “I started eating gluten-free, and I cut out processed foods, alcohol and most added sugars,” she says. “I wouldn’t recommend trying these changes in the middle of the season, or adding all the things you cut out when the sun is shining.” While Lewis found the changes helpful for herself, so far, no gluten-free diet or any other nutritional intervention Measures have not been proven to be effective in the treatment of SAD.
Another help from Lewis? yoga.She practiced regularly, taught classes, and wrote a book called angel in prana(Prana is the term used in yoga to describe breath and life.) She also practices a movement called grounding, which involves some outdoor activity and meditation, and after years as a corporate wellness consultant, she works as a massage therapist and holistic consultant.
Looking back, Lewis sees that putting himself last was part of what took so long to be diagnosed with SAD. “We all give so much to our children, our partners, that sometimes we forget to make sure we are okay,” she said. Taking an interest in her own health and learning the art of saying no has freed her up to deal with SAD and feel better.
“Just because something might be common doesn’t mean we have to live that way,” as Brendel said.