Dealing With Seasonal Affective Disorder At The Holidays

Melanie Thomassian Health Pro
  • The holidays are supposed to be a time of joy and happiness, where we spend quality time with friends and family members. However, this isn't the case for everyone. 

     

    For some people, the lack of sunlight and the reduced hours of daylight, can lead to a form of depression, called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. 

     

    This condition is most common in parts of the world which have long winter nights. It's unknown why seasonal affective disorder affects some people and not others. But, for those who do experience it, their symptoms usually disappear in the first few weeks of spring, as the days begin to brighten once again. 

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    Seasonal Affective Disorder And Heart Disease

    One study revealed that up to 15 percent of patients with cardiovascular disease, and up to 20 percent of patients who have undergone CABG surgery, experience major depression.

     

    If you are recovering from heart surgery, a heart attack, or another heart condition, temporary feelings of sadness and low mood are common for the first few weeks. 

     

    However, it's important to be able to distinguish between clinical depression, feeling low in mood, or seasonal affective disorder. This is why talking to your doctor is so important, if you think you may be experiencing any of these.

     

    Why Does Seasonal Affective Disorder Occur?

    Seasonal affective disorder occurs because there is less sunlight during the fall and winter months. This means that serotonin levels drastically decrease, and melatonin levels increase, resulting in depression.

     

    Serotonin is a neurotransmitter in the brain helping you to feel "good." Melatonin is a chemical in the brain regulated by light levels. When the levels of light are low, it informs the brain that it is time to sleep.

     

    So, some of the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include:

    • Carbohydrate cravings
    • Lethargy, disturbed sleep and fatigue
    • Feeling low in mood or depressed
    • Irritability
    • Difficulty concentrating and memory
    • Weakened immune system

    For those who experience seasonal affective disorder at Christmas, this increase in appetite and food cravings, can lead to other health issues, such as weight gain, increased blood pressure, and increased cholesterol levels. These are all problem areas if you already suffer from heart disease.

     

    Coping With Seasonal Affective Disorder

    So, how can you learn to cope with seasonal affective disorder at Christmas?

     

    1. Light Therapy

    If you suffer with seasonal affective disorder you will greatly benefit from increasing your exposure to natural sunlight throughout the day. However, when this is not possible, light therapy, can be extremely helpful.

     

    Light therapy is a specially designed light box, which you sit in front of for around two hours each day. This treatment often proves effective within three or four days of starting.

     

    2. Go Outdoors

    This is one of the most important things you can do, even when it's cold outside. A little activity can do wonders for a low mood, and also help to keep your heart in good working order.

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    3. Eat Healthy

    Eating well can be difficult when you don't feel good. However, it is extremely important, particularly when you have an existing heart condition. Focus on eating regularly, and try to get lots of healthy foods into your diet, such as fruits, vegetables, and oily fish. 

     

    4. Get Support

    This may include friends, family members, neighbors, and your doctor. Don't try to muddle through without telling others what you are experiencing. It's important to let others in on what you are suffering, and ask for their assistance when needed.

     

    Whether your symptoms during the holiday season are mild or more extreme, it's worth seeing your doctor right away.

     

    Seasonal affective disorder is treatable, and in most cases light therapy works extremely well. Remember, by starting treatment during the fall or early winter, it can be really effective in reducing the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.

     

    Melanie Thomassian is a registered dietitian, health writer, busy wife, and mum. Her goal is to promote good health and better lifestyles in the online community. For more healthy eating tips, check out her blog.

Published On: November 25, 2011