Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I feel Incredible! Managing Seasonal Affective Disorder

I am feeling incredible this morning and wanted to share that with everyone this morning. So why is feeling incredible on this particular day post worthy? Well keep reading and you will see!

If you have been paying attention in some of my other posts you will see I have mentioned I have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and this is the season for my symptoms to begin surfacing. So for me to say I feel incredible right now is a pretty big deal for me.

So what is Season Affective Disorder you ask? Well check out WebMD’s Overview here.

I was diagnosed with SAD back in my early 20’s and it has been a learning process for me over the past ten years to find a way to manage the symptoms and still be a productive member of society during the colder months. Some years I have done better than others but I will say that the years I have struggled the most are the ones I have learned the most about managing it.

For example last year was a particular bad year for me in regards to my symptoms. So why was that? Well there were several factors that came into play. I was faced with some stressful situations in my personal life that I was not managing well. In not managing that stress, I was not taking care of myself in the ways I needed to during the season change which set me up for some full blown symptoms which are particularly hard for me to manage once they get into full swing. For me prevention of symptoms is far more effective than trying to get a handle on them once they are already a problem. I learned that lesson last year when I made the choice to finally address them in about mid-January when they were full blown for me by that time.

So what things work for me in managing my SAD symptoms? Below is my list of what I call my prevention/management plan. When I focus on following the 4 parts of the plan, especially at the start of fall I find that I am able to manage my symptoms so much better. (Disclaimer before I list this. I am not a doctor so in no way should you read this and assume that this will work for you in managing SAD or any other depression related illness. You should always consult you physician for information on developing a treatment plan.) 

  • Consistent Sleep Pattern: This is an important one for me. Not only is it important to make sure I am getting my full 8 hours a night but it is also important that my body get on a sleep schedule where I go to bed and get up at the same time everyday. This also is important to my light therapy schedule which I will talk about in a minute. I also make sure I’m not sleeping too much. That means no weekend sleeping in and very rarely do I allow myself a nap. 
  • Light Therapy: Starting the day following the time change in the fall I start using my light therapy box every morning until right before the Daylight Savings time change in Spring. Some years I am able to stop earlier and some years I will continue until the time change, it really just depends on how I’m feeling that year.  I started light therapy a few years ago and this treatment by far has helped me more than traditional medication and counseling did.  Want to know more about light therapy check this site out.
  • Eating Clean: So if you took time to read the WebMD site I listed above you saw one of the symptoms can be cravings for more carbohydrates. For me that is a symptom that I experience and at times if can be downright intense. My body is trying to increase my serotonin levels (one of those feel good neurotransmitters in the brain) and one of the ways that it tries to accomplish this is by encouraging me to eat simple carbohydrates. If I gave into these cravings every time I had them I would surely put on weight so knowing this I try to keep them at bay by eating as clean and consistent as I can. This means eating 6 times a day, focusing on whole foods, and balancing my carbohydrate, protein, and healthy fat intake. Sure does a holiday cookie or piece of pie make its way in? Absolutely, but I just make sure I’m following the 90-10 approach. Which is focusing on 90% clean, 10% not so clean eating. 
  • Consistent Exercise: Getting active most days of the week has been really helpful for me in managing my symptoms. Not only does it get me up and moving for the day it also gives me the feel good boost that my body is craving. I workout 6 days a week every morning after breakfast. Working out in the colder months has been something I have had to work at getting into the habit of. During the warmer months my main form of exercise is riding my bike and when the weather gets colder I no longer do outdoor rides. Investing in my indoor trainer for the bike has been helpful but it’s not the same as riding outside for me. So to manage incorporating exercise indoors I have found that I needed variety. Sure I use my indoor trainer but I have added workout videos and now my Wii game. I tried just focusing on my indoor trainer but it just made me miss my outside rides so adding other things in helps me in not getting so sad about missing the warmer weather.

So did you notice that medications and traditional talk therapy are not part of my plan? Why is that? I have tried both of those in an attempt to manage my SAD but they just were not very effective for me. I know that they work for some people but for me the just didn’t. Interestingly enough, those two treatments are the ones that are used most often. My experience with medications was very scary because some of those I tried caused side effects that made me feel even more emotionally unstable, which in turn made my symptoms worse. Talk therapy just wasn’t something that helped in my case. It didn’t make it worse but it also didn’t help. I got frustrated with the fact that my doctor at the time really didn’t know what else to try other than keep changing my medications. This is where I took things into my own hands and did research on my own. This is how I learned about light therapy and lifestyle management as treatments for SAD.

So why is it that I’m feeling incredible today? Because I’m following my plan very consistently and I’m feeling as good as I do during the summer months. Compared to all the other fall seasons I feel like a completely different person. I feel like I have figured out the solution to an issue I have been battling with for a very long time and that makes me feel like I’m on top of the world.  

Quote of the day: 

“The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.” ~Robert H. Schuller


  1. Thanks for posting this very personal story. It is very much appreciated. I am glad you feel incredible ... keep up the great work!

  2. GOOD for you!! That's so awesome. Actually, I just wrote in my post that I think I may have slight SAD (if that's possible). I know my mom has it, so I wouldn't be surprised if I do too. I appreciate this post, as I learned a lot that I didn't know. My mom got one of those lamps once but for some reason she didn't keep it. Sometimes I go to the tanning bed :) ahhh! Not good. I don't find that I crave carbs, but I DO crave them when I don't exercise, probably because exercise also releases many of those feel good hormones and endorphins.

    Glad the plan is working for you. I will use this post in the future if I need any advice!

  3. SAD sucks. Really. True that. I'm glad you are following the plan and feeling great. That's awesome!

  4. Sounds like a very sensible plan and I'm so glad it's working! And all your coping skills are excellent for general health too.

    I'm sure a lot of folks with SAD will benefit from this post, thanks for sharing it!