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Friday, September 14, 2012


{Winter courtesy of the lovely Leonora Roy}
Winter casts her sorcerous spell of depression on too many.

Siv Maria:

talked of how winter casts her gloomy spell upon her each year. She is not alone.

Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a form of depression that affects 25 million Americans, mostly women.

Much research has been done on this mysterious disorder.
In somewhat of a simplification, the lack of light in wintertime can result in lower levels of serotonin, the mood-enhancing chemical that regulates hunger and the feeling of well-being.

Serotonin production increases with light, meaning that gray gloom creeping in the window is not kicking the production of feel-good chemicals into action.

Some symptoms include depression, marathon napping, low self-esteem, obsessiveness over little things, irritability, shyness, and panic attacks.

People with seasonal affective disorder may also sleep poorly (although for many hours), partly because they don't have enough serotonin to convert to the sleep substance melatonin.

Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and people generally recover completely around April or May - once the days become longer.

Treatment includes light therapy and/or medications. However, there are things you can do yourself that can help boost serotonin levels.

3 Ways to Boot up Your Serotonin

Julia Ross, MA, is director of the Recovery Systems Clinic in San Francisco and author of The Mood Cure and The Diet Cure. She tells WebMD there are three ways to jump-start your serotonin:

• Subject yourself to bright indoor light. This is the touchstone of seasonal affective disorder treatment. Many pricey lights are available. Ross says a 300 watt bulb within three feet for 20 minutes three times a day can help, although the boost in serotonin may be temporary.

• Exercise. This is very hard to do when caught up in the seasonal affective disorder cycle. But if you can force yourself to start, 15 to 20 minutes of dancing to the radio or fast walking can reduce a sweet tooth and improve mood.

• Eat wisely. This means, pushing away the leftover cake and eating sensible carbs to stimulate serotonin. Sweets and simple carbs, like white rice and white bread, quickly raise blood sugar, flood you with insulin, and then drop you in a hole.

Eating wisely also means watching the caffeine, which suppresses serotonin. "If you must drink coffee, save it for after the meal," Ross says.

• Protein, she says, should be eaten three times a day. Another good rule is to eat four cups of brightly colored veggies a day. "This is enough to fill a (pardon the expression) 1 quart ice cream container."

Vegetables are carbs, but the kind that feed into your system slowly.

• Samantha Heller, MS, RD, senior clinical nutritionist at the NYU Medical Center, tells WebMD it's best to substitute fruit for cookies and chocolate ice cream. In general, the good carbs of veggies, fruit, and beans help energy levels.

• "If weight gain in the winter months is your concern," Heller says, "you should get a healthy eating plan from a registered dietitian."

• Timing Is Also Everything

• It's fashionable to urge people to eat half a dozen small meals a day, but this is an individual preference, Heller says.

• "If you eat lunch at one o'clock and know you won't have dinner until eight o'clock, you may need a snack. If you eat junk food for lunch, by four o'clock you will be foraging for chocolate."

• She urges people to try eliminating all white, starchy foods for two weeks -- bread, rice, potatoes. "You will be amazed at how good you feel," she says. "But you need to stick to it to see a difference."

• Even as a nutritionist, she admits to having experienced the opposite. "I was going to visit my mother and bought a muffin for her and one for me," she says. "After I ate it, I felt like I had been drugged."

• That's another thing about seasonal affective disorder -- the lows are lower. If you are already serotonin-challenged, what you eat will have a bigger impact than in summer.

• Foods to Have on Hand

• If you suffer from seasonal affective disorder, you may be too snowed-in to run to the store. This can work for you if you keep fairly healthful commodities in the pantry. Some suggestions:

• Popcorn
Oatmeal (original, not desserts)
Egg whites for omelets
Peanut butter
Prewashed veggies
Whole grain crackers and bread
Deli turkey
Cottage cheese

• Forget the candlelight. In winter, dinner calls for 300 watts, and remove that shade!


  1. The Spooky Whisk:
    I goofed when writing it and posted before I did more than write the title! Oops! Sorry.

  2. Good timing for these reminders. I've never been diagnosed with S.A.D. but manifest the symptoms. And I do find that diet plays a large part in my overall feeling of well being. It's a lot easier to adjust eating habits now, before the levels serotonin wane, than in the middle of a bleak spell.

    ...and I've also found that writing helps! I don't know if it's possible physically to feel altered brain chemistry, but I when I'm writing I feel better than when I'm on anti-depressants!

  3. J.B.:
    Yes, adjusting our diets now nips the problem in the bud hopefully. And like you, writing does lift me out of the blues! :-)

  4. S.A.D. affects me, but with summer. I get so depressed at the thought of hot weather and sunshine. I wonder if any of these tips would work for me? I can feel myself get sad the instant we have a warming in the winter air. I know dreaded spring and summer are just around the corner. I love the darkness of winter, the freezing November rains, seeing my breath on the crisp air. I keep my a/c on meatlocker during the summer and go out as little as possible. I wish I could hibernate all summer and only come out when the ground freezes. :)

  5. I don't get the SAD effect (but many do here in the Northwest since we have a long dark winter with much rain more often here on the west coast.) I know of several guys who get this syndrome and must take vacations in Jan or Feb to warm places for a dose of sun.

    I use the dark time (winter and early spring) for writing. Since I'm shut in my garret(study) anyway. . .

    I think diet is much more important than many think for health and preventing problems as a person ages. I've converted to the Clean Eating way of cooking and eating food. (very little processed foods, make things from scratch, use lots of fresh fruits and veg) I drink too much coffee so hubs says, but I like it. So I make sure I drink lots of water.

    Interesting post, Roland!

  6. Some great timely advice. I definitely feel better when it's bright. I think getting out and doing some exercise in the fresh air helps too.

  7. This is great advice! I don't have trouble with it though, I love winter. It's snowboarding season!

  8. What awesome practical - and totally doable advice. My sister moved to London a few years ago, and she struggles with the gloom. I know she knows some of these things, but I'm going to make sure she knows all of them. Thanks. :)

  9. Roland, I just love this song from the snowman! Thank you for the advise, I think that writing is my best medicine although I know a better diet would help. I just love food to much to give up cream, butter, pasta, potaotes and then of! I quite smoking, do I have to give up more just now? Oh...Maybe I am just doomed to love my misery, this time of darkness is mine.

  10. Melissa:
    I am like you and Hibbs the bear with 2 shadows in that I love the autumn. Crisp, cool air, the smell of ripening apples in the air with branches heavy with them as if depressed with the thought of coming winter. The crackle of leaves underfoot.

    Summer means Hurricane Season ... never a good time down here!

    Scent therapy might help ... pine scented candles. Holiday music being played in air conditioned surroundings.

    There is always some flaw in the ointment for us.

    Diet is indeed important. And you are smart to drink lots of water to counterbalance the coffee. Writing always helps me.

    Walking or biking helps me. You breathe deeper and flush out the build-up of carbon dioxide in your system.

    I hope my tips help your sister in some small way. Have a beautiful weekend, Roland

    I love Walking In The Air, too. Especially this video of it. This time of darkness is bad, but you can try to lighten up on some of the bad foods. Drink coffee with sugar substitute. Buy that 300 watt bulb and bask in it each day. Or at least light up a small room with enough bulbs to equal 300 watts.

    Please try a few things. Roland

  11. I'm not a big fan of winter. I work just long days that it's dark when I wake up and dark when I get home :(
    These are very practical tips. I will have to keep them in mind.

  12. Heather:
    Down here in Louisiana, I don't even have the chance to do snowflake blowing! I love autumn as I've said with its scents, crisp air, and colors!

    Heather Murphy:
    Like you, I go to work in the dark and come home in it. Blah!!:-)