Stress and Seasonal Affective Disorder

Cathy Hamilton Health Guide
  • This is the end (thank goodness) to an exceptionally stressful month - one that included a horrendous bout with the flu (despite my getting a flu shot), serious family trouble and transition, and - to top it off - a case of S.A.D. or Seasonal Affective Disorder.


    In the past few years, I have suspected something happened to me during the winter. In my typically dismissive way, I would wave it off as post-holiday letdown or temporary job burn-out. This year, however, I was in the dumps by late January - tired and lethargic all the time, craving carbohydrates (and giving in to those cravings), not motivated to exercise, socially withdrawn. Definitely not "me." Throw in a boat load of difficult extenuating circumstances and I was a basket case, barely functioning on the most basic level.

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    After reading recent reports on the questionable effectiveness of anti-depressant medications, and because I was convinced my symptoms were seasonal, I ordered myself a Verilux "Happy Light." Light therapy, using a special full-spectrum light box, has been proven to be a successful treatment for many S.A.D. sufferers. I was hoping it would work for me.


    My routine was to get up in the morning, pour myself a cup of coffee and a jumbo glass of water, then sit in front of the light for 30 minutes or so while I read the news on my laptop or watched TV (Your eyes need to be open to absorb the beneficial light but you are not to look directly at the light source). For the first few days, I noticed some slight headaches and dry eyes, but then an amazing thing happened - I caught myself singing in the car on the way to work! Singing! My energy leveled gradually increased and I started craving salads and fruit - not pasta - for the first time in weeks. I'm back on the treadmill and can't wait to take my morning walks outside in the warm sunshine (if it ever comes) so I can retire the light for the spring and summer.


    I'm back on track now and have vowed to start light therapy earlier in the winter next year, probably starting January 1st.


    This dark episode has reminded me that health and wellness is about so many things besides diet and exercise. It's about managing stress and getting in tune to your moods and circadian rhythms. It's about taking stock once in a while and making sure things are in balance. And if something IS out of whack, it's about not being afraid, or too stoic, to address it.


    Winter is almost over. The light at the end of the tunnel is getting bigger and brighter. Bring on the spring, baby!

Published On: April 04, 2008