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Diagnosing Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is described as a form of depression that affects people typically in the winter months. Many people who are affected by SAD begin seeing symptoms of their depression in autumn, as the seasons change and the amount of daylight decreases.

Other symptoms of SAD include: loss of appetite, irritability, lack of energy, overeating (especially carbohydrates), lack of socializing, and increased sleep, particularly in the day time. For many people the correlation between the changing of the seasons and their symptoms of depression could simply be the stress of the holidays and the ending of a year, and not be seasonal affective disorder.  Psychologists say that there is a pretty thin line between SAD and event-related stress.

Doctors also believe that the release of melatonin in the brain can also be a factor in SAD.  Melatonin is released due to exposure to the sun, and doctors say that melatonin can influence some bodily rhythms because there is a decrease in daylight during the fall and winter months.

Luckily for those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder there are treatment options.

Depending upon the severity of the disorder, doctors may recommend antidepressant medications, psychological therapy and/or light therapy.

Light therapy seems to be the most effective form of treatment and many people can see results within a few days.  Light therapy involves having the person who suffers from SAD be exposed to a very strong light source, via a light box or a strong lamp.  The sufferer spends a couple hours in the light's rays per day as part of the treatment.

The light required in light therapy must be of enough brightness, typically 25 times brighter than a normal living room light.

And contrary to what many theories state, the light does not need to be actual daylight from the sun. In this case, it is quantity, not necessarily quality of light that matters in light therapy of seasonal affective disorder.

Exercise Your Brain

Despite what many people think, our brain can remain sharp, active, vital and creative no matter what our age.

Our brain can create new brain cells and new connections between them over the years, but our brain vitality is completely up to us.  Maintaining that vitality is truly a “use it or lose it” situation.

Studies done by a number of schools of medicine suggest that the more stimulating and intellectually challenging that we make our lives, the better our odds are to keep our brain sharp as we get older.

Some ways to keep our brains sharp include:

Reduce stress: stress can wear down the hippocampus, which plays a major role in memory function.

Exercise regularly: exercising delivers more oxygen-rich blood to the brain which is vital for producing new brain cells and preventing atrophy.

Eat low-fat and healthy: glucose spikes and fatty plaque deposits due to overeating can damage the brain, so a lower-calorie diet promotes better circulation and helps to control weight.

Challenge your brain: challenging your brain by learning and doing something new every week helps to create new neural pathways, helping to make your brain more versatile and able to multi-task.

Beat the Winter Blues

The winter season brings the least amount of sunlight of any time during the year : and people who work indoors get a mere 30 minutes of sunlight a day, compared to 90 minutes of sunlight a day in the summer time.

So instead of sitting indoors and enduring the winter blues, get outdoors, have some fun, and the winter months will fly by!

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Get outside:  To fight the winter blues, you have to join the winter blues, or something like that.   Bundle up, build a bonfire and roast some marshmallows.  Campfires don't need to be just for summertime anymore!

Create a positive playlist:  Studies show that when people listen to happy music that their mood increases.  While you clean the house or do the laundry, pump up the jams and listen to some music that puts you in a good mood to fight the blues.

Cheer yourself up with color:  When all you see outside is shades of blue and grey, cheer yourself up by adding a little bit of color to your life.  You don't have to do anything drastic like paint your walls a bright pink or anything, instead fill up some vases with colorful flowers.  Or fill a bowl with fresh lemons and limes for the beautiful yellow and green hues.

Start planning your vacation:  While you may not be able to get away from work or life during the winter months, there's no reason why you can't start planning your spring, summer or fall vacation.  Many people get more pleasure from the anticipation of the vacation, than the actual vacation!  Brainstorm about where you want to go, when you want to go there, what new foods you want to try or what new activities you will try out this year.

Have a snow day:  Snow days can be either indoors or outdoors.  An outdoor snow day includes building snow forts and having a snow ball fight.  While an indoors snow day includes lots of hot chocolate, popcorn, funny movies and family-friendly games.

Winter Motivation Tips

When the weather outside is frightful, it's easy to get lazy and to lack the motivation to even get out of bed some days.  So how do you stay motivated when everything is keeping you down?   Try some of these tips:

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  • Set goals and document them. By keeping a list you will see this daily and you will feel more inclined to want to check things off this list.
  • Set clear dates of when you need to complete things by, whether they are long term or short term goals. By giving yourself a deadline, you will work harder to keep them.
  • Reward yourself for meeting your deadlines and reaching your goals.  Whether you allow yourself to buy something nice or a day of pampering at the spa, you will work harder to do things when you know there is a reward at the end.
  • Listen to motivational tapes and/or read motivational books to help gain some inspiration to keep going.
  • Learn to breathe correctly.  You will feel more relaxed and when you are more relaxed you will also be more apt to stay motivated than when you are stressed.
  • Keep a positive attitude.  Even though it is easy to be depressed when the long, cold winter months drag on, try to remain positive and you will notice that motivation comes along with being happy.
  • Remind yourself that progress is what is important and not perfection.  This is especially important when you are looking at your long-term goals, as they may seem like the most unreachable.  Remember all of the short-term goals that you have met and you will be more successful.
  • Build a support system of friends and family members that are typically motivated.  By keeping like-minded people close to you, you will become motivated by just being in their presence.

Six Tips for a Stress-less Holiday Season

The holidays can be the most joyous AND the most stressful time of the year. Instead of driving yourself crazy and worrying your way through the season, use the following advice to help de-stress this year.

1. If you exchange gifts with friends, family or co-workers, decide ahead of time a pre-set spending limit that you will spend on each other. By keeping this amount in mind when you are shopping it will be less stressful to you when you are searching for that perfect gift as you can eliminate certain gifts if necessary.

2. Don't try to do all of the cooking for your get-togethers. Instead delegate certain dishes to your different family members or guests and let them help take the stress off of you when it comes to the meal. You will not only get a break, but your guests will feel like they contributed to making the holiday special.

3. Watch your sugar intake over the holiday season. Taking in too much sugar will not only lead to bloating, but it could also lead to depression. By watching what sugary treats you eat this season you will also avoid having to lose those extra pounds that you may put on by eating those foods.

4. Teach your children the value of gift-giving and the “reason for the season.” Children do not need an abundance of gifts, instead by getting them a few memorable gifts you will be instilling in them happiness for what they do get. This will also alleviate the stress of shopping every day for those items that will only be forgotten in a few days.

5. Don't sweat it if things aren't “perfect.” Believe it or not, your friends and family aren't interested in critiquing your tree, your decorations, your food or your gifts. Stop stressing about making everything perfect and realize that this holiday is about the joys of spending time together and not the other minor details.

6. Give to a charity this season. This season isn't about what you receive, but what you can give and what better way to give than to give to those in need? Whether it is by giving food and donations to a food bank or by donating some toys to those in need, you will feel such a calming and happy feeling knowing that you are affecting the lives of people who may do without otherwise.

Happy Holidays to you and wishes for a non-stressful season!