Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Good, The Bad, and the SAD

Despite all the joy and anticipation, the holiday season can also be a time of great sadness and depression. For some, it’s just a case of the post-Christmas blues. The best remedy for this kind of sadness is to revel in the darkness. Go to bed early whenever possible, and take advantage of any opportunity to sleep in. If you must get up before the dawn, indulge in the sensual luxury of showering in the dark. At the end of the day, eat dinner by candlelight or enjoy a cozy fire on a cold winter night. For a real treat, indulge in a warm, candle lit bath. Add essential oil of lavender to ease dry skin and help you relax.

If all these delicious remedies don’t shake your winter blues, you might just be suffering from a mental disorder called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD for short.

Getting enough sunlight, particularly during the winter months, can be critical to our mental health. This seasonal lack of sunlight can affect the balance of chemicals in our brain, including serotonin. That’s the chemical responsible for regulating sleep patterns and it can also affect our moods and our appetite. For most of us, the next sunny day will be enough to brighten our spirits. But for some people, lack of sunlight can cause SAD.

SAD sufferers can have symptoms that range from chronic fatigue and oversleeping, to overeating and subsequent weight gain. In severe cases, individuals are unable to function normally. SAD sufferers may also experience persistent physical symptoms such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain that doesn’t respond to treatment. In extreme cases, SAD patients may even become suicidal.

Women are four times more likely than men to suffer from SAD, but it can affect anyone at any age. SAD symptoms in children include irritability, difficulty getting out of bed and school problems. This could help explain why your child has trouble making it out of the door in time to catch the school bus during the winter months.

Fortunately, for most SAD sufferers there’s a relatively simple solution – light therapy. Sitting in front of specialized lamps or light boxes that produce 10,000 lux of light for as little as 30 minutes a day has been proven to be more effective than drug therapy in combating the effects of winter light deprivation. (By comparison, ordinary house lighting produces about 300 lux.)

Given our geographical location, it should be no surprise that Canadian companies are leading the way in this specialized lighting to combat the symptoms of SAD. Northern Light Technologies in Montreal, Quebec, and Uplift Technologies Inc. in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia both have a wide range of SAD lighting that can help restore the brain’s normal serotonin levels. Drug therapy and diet are also being looked at as possible treatments for SAD.

Common sense can go a long way to reducing the impact of the disorder. If you suspect that you or a family member might be suffering from SAD, consult your family doctor for a referral to a qualified specialist. A diagnosis of SAD requires a professional evaluation by a psychiatrist, psychologist or social worker.

If you have been identified with SAD, contact your Human Resources Department. Given the prevalence of this disorder, many HR departments are developing programs to assist employees suffering from SAD.

Educate your family and close friends about SAD to gain their understanding and support. Daily outdoor exercise can also help reduce milder symptoms. A morning walk is a good idea –without sunglasses. They filter the helpful rays of the sun. SAD sufferers should also avoid staying up late, because it disrupts your biological clock. The best option is to stay on a regular sleep schedule seven days a week.

For those who can afford it, one of the best treatments for SAD sufferers is a week on the beach. If that’s not in your budget, take heart. Since passing the winter solstice on December 21st, the days have already begun to get longer. While the weather outside might be frightful, spring is already on its way back.


The Canadian Mental Health Association has great information and resources for SAD sufferers. Visit www.cmha.ca for more information.

To find out about SAD lighting visit:

• Uplift Technologies at www.day-lights.com, or call toll-free at 1-800-387-0896.

• Northern Lights Technology at www.northernlighttechnologies.com, or call toll-free at 1-800-263-0066.


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