Ask the Editors

Ask the Editors: Battling SAD

Welcome to Ask the Editors, where we combine the multi-generational wisdom of our editorial team to answer reader questions.  If you’d like to ask a question of your own, you can use this completely anonymous Ask Us form.

Question: How do you regain energy when the first round of seasonal affective disorder sets in?

SallySassyPants: My advice for SAD would be:

1. Get thee a therapy light. They work.
2. While it’s still not miserable outside, get outside during the day to get some light. Go for a walk during lunch, which is what I do. Having that little bit of sun really helps.
3. Do things that make miserable weather fun, like baking, so you can associate those good things with the weather instead of thinking that clouds mean misery.
4. And of course, if the problem is really, really bad, consider consulting a doctor about medication.

Hattie McDoogal: My advice! As someone who actually likes the fall/winter. BUT STILL.

Have a security blanket. It can literally be a blanket or it could be your favorite hoodie, fleece, sweater, waffle shirt, what have you. The comfier, the better. When you’re feeling SAD, just snuggle up with that item and give yourself some kind of treat when you’re wearing it. It doesn’t have to be a food treat – it could be an episode of your favorite guilty pleasure TV show, or just lazing around with a book, or reading a trashy magazine for half an hour. When you’re wearing the “blanket,” you get a treat. It’s just a way to give yourself something to make you feel better.

Sara B.: Music is my first line of defense against the blues.  Something singing loudly, or dancing wildly to can help pop me out of a funk. Getting outside for a walk is good too. When I am depressed, activity is the last thing I want, but it’s usually what I need.  If I totally can’t stand the idea of being active, I allow myself one day of cocooning with no recriminations and force myself to do something the next day. Warm baths, with my favorite bubbles/bath bomb/salts, are also rejuvenating.

pileofmonkeys: I am a HUGE proponent of light therapy. (It’s what I wrote my very first P-Mag post about!) I also make sure I’m getting enough (but not too much) sleep, and spending at least a little time outside, even if it’s just raking leaves or taking a quick walk around the neighborhood with the dogs. If you suddenly totally disconnect from being outside, your body gets all sorts of confused.

By [E] Selena MacIntosh*

Selena MacIntosh is the owner and editor of Persephone Magazine. She also fixes it when it breaks. She is fueled by Diet Coke, coffee with a lot of cream in it, and cat hair.

7 replies on “Ask the Editors: Battling SAD”

I hate to be negative, but it concerns me gravely that non-medical personnel are answering a medical question. The liability for such a move is huge and I do not recommend it. The most effective treatment for seasonal affective disorder is Vitamin D, yet no one recommended this. Please read this blog post: Stop the Winter Blues and Seasonal Affective Disorder:

Sorry. I’m not usually this bitchy. It just concerns me in a huge way when medical advice is given by non-medical people. It’s dangerous for the reader and also for the writer from the point of liability. Also, if you’re going to share information about full spectrum light bulbs or anything else, you really need to include the FDA disclaimer statement for your own protection. Thanks!

Expressing what works for you as an individual as advice is not problematic. Someone solicited us for our opinions on a matter; it’s not different from asking a friend what works better for cramps, Advil or Tylenol. We aren’t saying this is the cure or treatment, just that this is how we handle it.

No one here claimed to be a medical professional, and this advice is offered in a spirit of friendship and “This is what worked for us.” The other article linked to here (about light-box therapy) included the disclaimer you refer to. The article also included advice to people to see a medical professional for serious cases of SAD. I think it would be highly questionable for non-medical personnel (like everyone who chimed in here) to advise SAD patients on their vitamin/supplement/medicinal treatment of this disorder, so I’m glad they didn’t recommend Vitamin D, because they aren’t qualified to prescribe a dosage or consult on possible conflicts with other medications/vitamin and supplement treatments each individual patient is on. You claim you’re just concerned that “medical advice is being given by non-medical people,” but I think they were pretty specific about giving NON-medical advice; they didn’t recommend a course of treatment that would have been in any way dangerous to a person who takes them, and referred people who are suffering from serious SAD to speak with a medical professional. (That would be an appropriate person to recommend a dosage for Vitamin D or any other treatment.)

As a routine sufferer from SAD, I can personally attest to the fact that Vitamin D therapy alone has rarely been an effective treatment for my own SAD, so I really appreciated this article and its advice, because I was already taking the prescribed & recommended doses of Vitamin D therapy when I asked for more help from these smart, savvy, experienced ladies. They’re not medical professionals. They don’t need to be. It’s October and everyone I know is going through the blues right now, and most of my friends with SAD are already taking Vitamin D. I asked for help from people I thought would have some additional, non-medical pointers, because SAD isn’t JUST a medical issue, just like depression treated with ONLY chemicals isn’t treated well. You claim on your other site that you’re interested in holistic treatments, but in my experience, holistic approaches require more than popping a pill into your body, and they often benefit from outsourcing your ailments to the community and treating not just your body but also your mind and spirit, through activities, conversation, and through social support – just like what was offered here.

Finally, I appreciate that this is your area of expertise, but it doesn’t come off as very professional when you attack (perfectly legitimate) advice (from people who have had experience with their own bouts of winter blues, as they mentioned in the article) while linking to your own blog. It comes off as an advertisement, and it comes off as disingenuous. I think many women who suffer mild depression, seasonal affective disorder, or other bouts of mood imbalance regularly rely on friends, family, and folk wisdom to get them through these periods, and I think it would be a real shame if our medical personnel tried to lambast every aunt, grandmother, and girlfriend who chimed in with a “This is what worked for me.”

It’s obvious that you have a lot of valuable knowledge to contribute here, and that’s fantastic! I’m so excited to see other perspectives showing up on an issue that’s obviously near and dear to me. But it would be even better if you could do it in a manner that wasn’t both condescending to people who offered helpful advice and self-serving to your own practice.

Last year the SADs hit me hard, and I was pregnant, so I couldn’t self-medicate with wine like I usually do.  So I got a light box and took 2000 IUs of D every day.  It helped combat SAD, but I wish I’d started the regimen earlier.  It’s very hard to climb out of the SAD pit when you’re at the bottom in January.  I put the light box on my desk this week and have upped my D and omega-3 intake in the hopes that I can avoid the worst of it this year.  Going outside to get sunlight is all well and good, but Seattle in the winter isn’t a great place for natural vitamin D, and even with 45 minutes of dog-walking every day, I still needed multiple other sources of D.

For me, as someone who grew up close to the equator, seasonal changes are so foreign to my body that my first five or six winters back in the Pacific Northwest were absolutely miserable. Once realizing that I suffered from SAD (and dealt with other factors that were contributing to my depression), I took my health issues by the horns and dealt with them.

Here’s what I have found that works:

1) Lights! Light therapy works, but changing your lightbulbs to ones with full spectrum lighting also helps and, in a pinch, I walk into the lighting aisle at Home Depot and soak it all in. Yes, it’s artificial, but I swear it helps!

2) Taking care of my body physically. Drinking plenty of water (not just chugging coffee to get by), eating healthfully, and exercising regularly have all contributed to better mental health. I recently made a habit of exercising (4-6 times a week), and so far, I have yet to experience the seasonal blues that have been my personal dementors these winters past.

3) Socializing. I am an introvert. I like being alone–a lot–but there are times when I’m in the midst of SAD and I realize that even if I don’t want to be around anyone else–ever! I’m hibernating, damnit!–sometimes pushing myself to be with others can really elevate my mood. I pick my closest friends and do something fun. It might be going into the city, taking silly photos, and having adventures, or it could be a girl’s night in. Find something that works for you.

4) Be honest. Denying that you might be affected by SAD will not help you. (Trust me, I know!) If you feel depressed during fall/winter, that is ok. A lot of people feel the same! That doesn’t mean that you are weak, it just means that your body reacts differently to less light and shorter days. Swallow your pride and talk to a doctor if you can. S/he may be able to determine any specific triggers for your seasonal depression and help you accordingly.

5) Vitamin D, vitamin D, vitamin D. In northern areas, doctors recommend 1000 IUs of vitamin D a day. The average dose recommended is about half that, but if you don’t live in say, Texas, or Florida, you will need a lot more supplementary vitamin D to make up for your lack of winter sunshine.

This is what has worked for me. I’m interested to see what other people have found that has worked!

PS. Sorry this is so long!

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