Feeling Blue? Some secrets to dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Autumn Squamish
Fall is a great time of year! Bright yellow, orange, red and green are the colours of the changing season. Crisp wind, brisk cardio, warm clothes, hot food, and cosy indoor time are some of the highlights.  But for many (and especially those who are not native of the area) the additional darkness can create some trouble functioning in a normal capacity. Many report feelings of depression, lethargy, and a general lack of inspiration. These are some of symptoms associated with S.A.D. or Seasonal Affective Disorder….  which is a real issue for many.
Rain And Gloom

The going theory is that the shorter days, and the fall overcast skies disrupt our circadian rhythms. The circadian rhythms in general, are the body’s normal day-in-day-out cycles that are synchronized around things like light & dark, warm & cool, meals, exercise and stress.  In the coming weeks in Southern British Columbia the sunrise is around 7:25am and sunset is around 4:15pm giving us only eight and a half hours of light, and fifteen and a half hours of darkness. The issue with the increased darkness is that many of us do not recieve the wonderful things that sunshine brings to our lives, like the vitamin D we produce in our skin, and also the stimulus on the retina of our eye that fuels us to create good hormones in our body that make us feel energized, awake, and inspired.

These “sunshine substances” are often referred to as endorphins and produced in the pituitary gland and hypothalamus in the brain. One of them is dopamine which has been shown to have a role in boosting both the immune system and motor control. Another is serotonin, which gives us feelings of well being and happiness, and has positive effects on blood pressure, appetite, sleep, and bone density. Serotonin has also been correlated to increasing cognitive factors like memory and hearing.

So, without the sun’s full spectrum of the light rays on our eyes and body, we don’t get enough stimulation to make the right quantity of endorphins, thus leaving people feeling depleted. However, with 45mins of any vigorous physical activity 5 – 7 days per week you can beat the autumn blues by producing more of the endorphins to avoid depression associated with the changing seasons. We call this exercise process Mechanotransduction. It’s the mechanical stimulus on the body’s cells that kick start pituitary, hypothalamus and maintain the feel good process in the absence of direct sunlight. Essentially, the secret beating S.A.D. is: ….. EXERCISE.

Addendum: Other known  approaches to dealing with SAD in conjunction to physical activity:

  • Sunshine holidays (if you can afford it). Go to a location where the day/night balance is equal (12hrs/12hrs).
  • Sit in front of a full spectrum light box for 10 – 15mins per day
  • Reduce or eliminate alcohol intake.
  • Reduce oversleeping, 7-9 hours of sleep is ideal for adults.
  • Reduce high calorie meals (overeating can cause you to be lethargic).
Last, depression is a very real and serious issue. If you continue to feel sad despite trying exercise and light therapy, please see your physician as there are some prescriptions which can help you get back to functioning at your optimum until the longer days of spring and summer return.

Here’s some of my favorite rainy day activities.

Hiking in the Rain

Jericho Rain  Run

Rain Paddle

Rain ride

Swim in the Rain

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