At this time of year many of us, yours included, have lost energy. The winter blahs. The winter blues. No matter what the term is, it’s not a walk in the park.
This common problem wasn’t given a name until the mid-1980s, when it became known as Seasonal Affective Disorder. That’s when psychiatrists recognized what many of us knew all along: that summertime energy often goes out the window come fall and winter.
You might be tempted to think it’s just the colder weather that causes SAD, but it’s not. Studies have shown that SAD is probably due to a reduction in serotonin activity in the brain. Too little serotonin and you feel blue. In fact, when you look at the world’s most commonly used antidepressant, Prozac, its main goal is to increase serotonin.
Some people might need antidepressants to treat SAD, and I have several patients who start on them in the fall and stop them once spring hits. But there are other ways to deal with SAD, especially if you have a mild case.
It’s all about light, light, light. Keep those shades up, don’t draw the curtains and walk outside whenever you can. Make it a point to go outside every day around noon to get some good old-fashioned sunshine.
It’s also so much better to get some exercise during your lunch hour rather than just eating. Remember how much recess we had at school? Think of noon as your recess. You need to get out of that office or out of the house. Spend time with Mother Nature. It helps.
When we fixed up our house a few years ago – it needed a new roof and all – we put in sky lights all over the place and added windows. It was my wife Penny’s idea to get more light into the house, especially because she knew I craved it in winter.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t suggest mortgaging the house to treat your SAD. But if you are fixing things up anyway, think about ways to bring in more light.
Next, consider a portable SAD light. You can buy them everywhere for about $70. They are worth it.
Forget the “full spectrum” lights that cost more; they’re not any better than the LED versions that are portable and less costly. I used to tell people to make their own SAD light out of shop lights (four florescent lights is all you need), but today’s portable SAD lights are just as inexpensive.
How long should you use a SAD light? Many suggest starting in early November and using it until daylight hours are long enough to start lifting your spirits and thinking of spring.
I put the light next to me for 30 minutes every morning when I check my email and log on to Facebook. It’s right at my side, kind of like an artificial sun. I use it nearly every day in the bleak days of winter.
Dr. Zorba Paster is a family physician, university professor, author and broadcast journalist. He also hosts a radio program at 3 p.m. Saturdays on WBFO-FM 88.7.