For some, it hits every year around this time — or, perhaps, a bit later. Either way, it seems inevitable: the fall blues.
Slowly, the temperature cools off, the days get shorter, and, suddenly, the glowing, carefree days of summer are gone in a flash…
You can feel the crisp breeze now.
Before you know it, the sun is setting at 4:30 p.m., dark skies and frigid temperatures robbing earthlings of precious outdoor time. (Debbie Downer, much?) Joking aside, it’s an unsettling pattern sufferers know all too well.
That’s because S.A.D. is a repetitive condition: it flares up on schedule, arriving at the same predictable times each year. Although, unlike other depressive disorders, its arrival is anticipated by sufferers like clockwork, it is still classified as a type of depression, sharing many common depression symptoms, including feelings of anxiety, irritability, and negativity; lessened pleasure from activities once enjoyed; increased desire for carbohydrate foods, possibly resulting in weight gain; isolation and antisocial behaviors; crying; weakened concentration, sleeping more than usual, and so on.
Don’t let the sun go down on you.
It is believed that S.A.D. stems from several biological factors, all rooted in a simple lack of sunlight during the late fall and winter months.
For one, this reduced sunlight is suspected to interfere with the natural circadian rhythm in sufferers. As the basis of the human sleep-wake cycle, these crucial rhythms are responsible for signaling to your body when to be off in dreamland or rise. Confused by Mother Nature, depression may occur when these natural cues are set off course by the dwindled daylight. Other scientists believe that a deficit of serotonin is the S.A.D.’s culprit. Inadequate sunlight can cause a reduction in these mood-affecting neurotransmitters, triggering depression.
Luckily for those who suffer from this cyclical disorder — to whatever the degree — there are a few things that can be done to alleviate symptoms and improve mood. Depending on the severity of one’s S.A.D., traditional treatments include the use of a special, strong light box (known as “light therapy“), which, akin to sunlight, results in uplifting biochemical brain changes; outdoor exercise when possible (such as a brisk afternoon walk with a friend); and/or seeing a mental health professional, who – although unlikely to be necessary – can prescribe medication.
Rabies, schmabies: a walk with Scruffy never hurt anyone… right?
As a firm believer in natural cures (naturopathy) and home remedies, however, Mastering Public Health would like to offer a few further suggestions:
1. Get in the holiday spirit. Any way you can, uplift your mood by getting excited about the season ahead or at hand. Don’t be bashful — go to the crafts store and decorate the home and lawn with pumpkins and turkeys posters. Cut elementary-school-style paper snowflakes with your kids — or alone! Play festive tunes and dance around the house. Stock up on stationary, too — mail hand-written cards and jazz them up with tons of fun stickers (Sandylion and Mrs. Grossman’s reign supreme) or cute magazine clippings (from the latest health flier, of course). These things will help you feel better and keep in touch with friends, effectively combating the antisocial tendencies S.A.D. can bring.
2. Get in those Omega-3s (fish, walnuts, and flaxseed) and B-complex nutrients, which have been shown to improve mood. Consistently dubbed the ‘feel-good’ vitamins, B vitamins (eggs, potatoes, legumes, grains, greens, and meat) are gaining an increasingly respected reputation for their significant role in emotional health. B-12 supplements are especially crucial for vegans, for whom it is nearly impossible to obtain the vitamin from non-animal sources.
3. Create something. Whether you like to bake, draw, paint, sing, or play an instrument, there’s no better time to get to it. If you have to be in the house anyway, you might as well have something to show for it. Productivity now! Experiment with old hobbies and new, and seek a friendly audience if you’d like. No one will turn down listening to your new piece, critiquing your latest artwork, or indulging in a slice of your apple pie or spiced walnut muffins.
4. Send away for freebies in the mail. This one sounds silly, but what’s better than getting a letter addressed to you that is not only NOT a bill, but contains something fun and free? It also gives you something to which to look forward. There are so many sites out (albeit, some shadier than others) there that keep tabs on current coupon deals and freebies. Wal-Mart’s site, for example, offers rotating free samples from various companies. Kashi is also well-known for their freebie generosity (in fact, they happen to have a free cereal sample available now). Don’t be shy! Write to your favorite company explaining how much you enjoy their products or perhaps want to try a new one, ever-so-kindly requesting coupons with which to do so. 90%* of the time (*unscientific data based on personal experience), they will thank you for your loyalty and reward you with vouchers for a free or discounted product and/or mail a complimentary item. How easy can it get?
Like the New York State Lotto, “Hey, you never know.” Chin up!
(Edited to add: PS- In placing that above link, I just discovered that Ms. Lara is finally selling those miniature-sized bars–in Apple Pie, Cherry Pie, and Cashew Cookie–that in the past were so famously only given away marathons, etc. Victory! Now, if someone could tell us when they’re going to go organic….)