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Happy & Healthy During the Dark Month

February 1, 2019
Categories: Health & Wellness

Are you feeling SAD? Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is not uncommon in the Pacific NW, with only 8 hours, 47 minutes of daylight in Olympia on December 1.

Dr. Linda Pourmassina, an internal medicine physician with the Polyclinic in Seattle, tells us that SAD is thought to be caused by a decrease in exposure to natural sunlight, leading to decreased levels of serotonin in the brain. 

Symptoms of this reduced serotonin may include wanting to sleep more, eat more (especially carbohydrates), becoming irritable, and gaining weight.  If we were bears, we would get through this period by hibernating until the sun returns.  Since we don’t have the luxury of taking a long winter’s nap, we may find Dr. Pourmassina’s suggestions useful in minimizing the effects of reduced natural light on our bodies and our functioning:

  • Get outside and walk during the day as much as you can.
  • Use a Dawn Simulator, a device that gradually increases the light in the bedroom in the early-morning hours, to help you wake up more naturally.
  • Set your lamp on a timer that turns on the light before the sun rises.
  • Schedule social activities throughout the dark season, or even better, take a vacation in a sunny locale.
  • Avoid the temptation of carbohydrate-laden foods such as cookies, breads, or pastas. The quick spike and drop these foods cause in blood glucose can affect mood and energy levels.
  • Use a light-box that provides the appropriate light spectrum to mimic natural daylight.
  • If your symptoms are severe, talk with your healthcare provider about whether a medication to maintain serotonin levels would be useful for you. These medications are called SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) – you may know them by their brand names, such as Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa, Paxil.  Some people just need to use these medications during the darkest parts of the year.
  • If you are experiencing debilitating depression or are feeling suicidal, please talk with your healthcare provider immediately or call friends, family, or the Thurston County Crisis Clinic Hotline 24/7 at (360) 586-2800.

There is hope – the darkness began to recede the day after Winter Solstice on December 21.  We get 2 minutes more light every day as we make our return journey to summer!

Marla LeFevre, RN

Director of Health Services

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