Many people experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) around this time of year. What exactly is SAD?According to the Mayo Clinic, Seasonal Affective Disorder occurs because “Sunlight enters the brain through the eyes, stimulating the production of a neurotransmitter serotonin that supports nerve cell functioning, including mood. Less light results in lower serotonin levels. Darkness stimulates the production of melatonin, which promotes sleep. It’s the combination of less serotonin and increased amounts of melatonin that causes SAD”.
The whole idea of daylight saving time and turning back the clock may appear a good thing for some people but this process can throw the body off kilter and for those persons, this change is a SAD memory of what’s ahead.
I interviewed a family member who could give me a first-hand account of what it was like for her to relocate from Toronto to British Columbia. She noted upon arrival to her new surroundings she would wake up to a breathtaking view of the snow-capped mountains and warmer than normal temperatures than previously experienced in Toronto, however, nine days out of ten there was be rain and darkness like a heavy cloud of gloom. During those days of darkness she stated she felt lethargic, slept all the time, overate, had a loss of energy, social withdrawal and difficulty concentrating. “It got so bad that I actually flunked a driver’s test twice, and these feelings continued for a number of years as my body fought to adjust to the changes in the season”.
Whether it is British Columbia or Toronto, it is normal to feel a little bit down this time of year from autumn into winter when chilly temperatures forces one to finally haul out winter gear from storage to brace low temperatures and the disappearing afternoon sun guarantees a dark commute home “…this reduced exposure to mood boosting sunlight and energy triggers the changes in brain chemistry that in some people leads to profound sadness…” as reiterated by the Mayo Clinic.
“Don’t get me wrong” she stated – “British Columbia happens to be one of the most beautiful provinces in the world, as well as being one of the best places to live but little did I know that nearly the whole time I spent there, I had been experiencing winter depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and according to the Canadian Mental Health Association “…nearly 20% of people experience winter blues, and women are four times more likely to be affected than men. Therefore, it is not uncommon for people to begin feeling sluggish, moody or stuck”. These, however, are typical symptoms of someone experiencing SAD. It is also the time to seek professional help if these symptoms begin to affect your ability to perform at work or take a toll on your personal relationships. Seeking help is particularly important if you have thoughts of self-harm as some people do. Important tips would be to get regular exercise, get outside as much as possible as there is no substitute for natural daylight and by all means stay social, and connect with family and friends on a regular basis.
My family member came home for a visit and so it came as a welcome relief to her to spend Christmas with family again and experience temperatures which were much colder, but where there was an abundance of light. “How magnificent it was reflecting off the snow, (coincidentally, this occurred in winter of 2013 when Toronto experienced its first ice-storm) “I drank it in the way a dehydrated person might immerse themselves in water”.
Then it was back to the gloom of British Columbia. “I literally felt my own lights going out, as the darkness again settled in, it was at this point that I decided to relocate back to Toronto. Thankfully, I could see light at the end of the tunnel – literally. I could actually feel the clouds lift as I boarded that plane back to the home I had left all those years ago”.
An appropriate relief for anyone would be to curl up with a cup of hot cocoa and marshmallows topped with whipped cream on top and to sit in front of a blazing fire with a good book. But many with SAD need natural light. If you can’t find natural light, you can obtain substitutes. Speak to your doctor or counsellor about other options to cope with SAD. We are here to help you.
As for my family member she has relocated back to Toronto and settled into her new life. She feels she made the right decision and learned the University of British Columbia in Vancouver now has one of the leading programs devoted to SAD.
Written by Coslyn Selby, edited by Debra Rodrigues.by