The SAD seasonDealing with the winter blues health for your
By Heidi Smith Luedtke
FEELING FATIGUED and out of sorts? Your
mood and motivation may be subject to the
season. Experts say that 5 to 10 percent of people suffer from seasonal affective disorder
(SAD), and millions more experience milder
Common symptoms include low energy,
cravings for high-carbohydrate foods such as
pasta and pastries, sadness and despair, social
withdrawal, loss of libido and difficulty concentrating. Symptoms may appear as early as
September; for most people, they arrive in
December or January and lift in the spring,
says Norman Rosenthal, M.D., clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University
School of Medicine and author of Winter
Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat
Seasonal Affective Disorder (The Guilford
Press, 2005). Rates are lowest at the equator
and highest where light is in short supply.
Winter blues often go untreated because
people don’t realize they are depressed, says
Costco member Stewart Shankman, associate
professor of psychology at the University of
Illinois at Chicago. Gloomy moods may be less
noticeable than physical symptoms such as
exhaustion, weight gain and sleep disturbances. A seasonal cycle suggests you’ve got
winter blues, not an underactive thyroid, low
blood sugar or chronic fatigue. Fight back
with the following self-care strategies.
Lighten up. Low-light conditions tell the
body to produce melatonin, which makes you
feel drowsy. Open the shades or go outside for
some rays. If you still feel drained, use a therapeutic light box. “Models with intensities
from 2,500 to 10,000 lux are considered effective,” says Rosenthal.
Thirty years of clinical research demonstrate the safety and effectiveness of white
fluorescent light. Start with 15 minutes of
therapy in the early-morning hours. If your
energy levels don’t rebound after a week,
increase your light exposure in five-minute
increments. Finding the right regimen is
important. Rosenthal cautions, “Too much
light can make you feel overstimulated, like
you’ve had too much caffeine.”
Fuel well. Indulging carbohydrate cravings provides only short-term satisfaction,
says nutritional psychotherapist Julia Ross,
executive director of Recovery Systems Clinic
in Mill Valley, California, and author of The
Mood Cure (Viking, 2002). Sweet or starchy
foods cause blood sugar to spike and then
plummet, leaving you wanting another fast
fix. A protein-rich diet sustains well-being
because it provides the amino acid tryptophan. Without it, the body can’t make serotonin, one of the brain’s feel-good chemicals.
Ross recommends eating 20 to 30 grams of
protein per meal to boost mood.
Supplement. If your diet is deficient,
tryptophan supplements—either 5-hydroxy-
tryptophan or L-tryptophan—may help, says
Ross. Vitamins can also improve your outlook.
Most people are deficient in vitamin D3, which
is produced in the body through exposure to
sunlight, says Rosenthal. Vitamin D is crucial
for calcium absorption, and it also supports
heart health and immune system functioning.
Get a blood test from your doctor to check
your level. Some people report improved
mood after taking vitamin D3 supplements.
Move it. Physical exercise is an effective
way to banish the blues year-round. Exercise
boosts serotonin production, increases oxygen flow to the brain and diminishes the
body’s response to stress. Good nutrition and
sunlight amplify these benefits. Walk, run or
cycle outside if possible. Even on cloudy days,
the light is much more intense outdoors. A
treadmill or stationary bike in front of a light
Costco and Costco.com offer light boxes, supplements, sleep aids and exercise equipment.
box is a good alternative if it’s too cold or icy
to go out.
Stress less. Holiday hassles and work-place pressures can make matters worse.
“Schedule activities that will give you pleasure in your life,” says Shankman. Take a class
or work on a project. Go to your book club
meeting, even if you’re not feeling sociable.
People are one of the most powerful and
plentiful sources of joy in life. Spend alone
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DECEMBER 2011 ;e Costco Connection 65