Why so S.A.D. ?

By: Dr Caitlin Davidson

The cheerful holiday season is behind us and we find ourselves staring down the barrel of the shortest, darkest, and coldest days of the year.  This makes it the perfect time to talk about our mental health and how we can take care of ourselves and support one another.

 Many of us have undoubtedly heard of S.A.D., or seasonal affective disorder.  This is a disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of season-specific depressed mood, most often occurring in the winter months when exposure to sunlight is at a minimum.  Signs and symptoms of S.A.D. include weight gain, increased sleep, decreased activity, low energy, and loss of interest in usually enjoyable activities.  This probably sounds really familiar and that’s ok.  It is normal feel down some days.  Everybody gets the winter blues. 

 What we need to look out for, in both our loved ones and ourselves, is when the winter blues progress to S.A.D.  In addition to the aforementioned symptoms, seasonal affective disorder can present as feeling depressed for most of the day almost everyday, drastic changes in appetite and sleep patterns, feeling no motivation for days on end, feelings of hopelessness/worthlessness/guilt, turning to alcohol or other substances for comfort, and experiencing thoughts of death or suicide. 

 The best thing to do, for either S.A.D. or a case of the winter blues, is to make an appointment with your family medical doctor.  They can order blood work to assess whether these feelings are (at least in part) a result of an underlying condition such as vitamin/mineral deficiency, anemia, altered thyroid function, etc.  They can also refer for further psychological evaluation with a specialist who can differentially diagnose S.A.D. vs. another depressive disorder vs. bipolarism and other disorders, and can prescribe pharmaceuticals or psychotherapy if warranted.  

 After seeing your MD, regardless of whether it is a case of winter blues or S.A.D., here are some things that everyone living this far from the equator can benefit from during these dark times:

·      Vitamin D Supplementation: Vitamin D is unique because our bodies can make it themselves in response to exposure to sunlight.  It is important for supporting bone health but has also been associated with improving depression scores in some scientific studies.  As Canadians, we require 400-1000 IU of vitamin D daily because we aren't exposed to enough sunlight to make adequate vitamin D on our own.

·      Take Advantage of Daylight:  This means going outside for a walk, opening the blinds, sitting next to a bright window at work or home; basically soak up as much of the limited natural daylight as possible.  Some people also benefit from phototherapy, sitting in front of a light box that emits a special type of bright light mimicking natural daylight.

·      Meditate: Practicing mind-body connection through relaxation and meditation can be a powerful way to help mitigate stress and negative thought patterns by helping you regain a sense of control over your health and well-being.

·      Exercise: Breaking a sweat not only helps us feel better about ourselves, it results in the production of mood-elevating hormones (endorphins) that help keep stress, anxiety, and feelings of sadness at bay.

·      Socialize: Even though we’re less motivated to do so this time of year, it’s important to engage our social support networks and make an effort to see our friends and family.  Sharing a laugh or a cry can be equally therapeutic, and chances are they need your company as much as you need theirs. 

 The good news is that we already meditate, exercise, and socialize at our YOGAthletix yoga and fitness classes.  And if you need more than that, please know that you’re not alone.  If you’re worried about yourself or a loved one, I’m here to chat.  Let’s take care of each other and get through this winter together.  Lots of love. 

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Dr. Caitlin Davidson, BSc (Hons), DC

Dr. Davidson graduated Magna Cum Laude from the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College in 2016, while being co-president of the ICPA Pediatrics Club and teaching in a Senior’s Chair Yoga Program. In 2017 she also became a Certified Animal Chiropractor. She is a member in good standing with College of Chiropractors of Ontario. Dr. Davidson is passionate about helping your entire family live your healthiest, most balanced lives. And she loves to practice what she preaches, which is why you can catch her in all styles of classes at Yogathletix!