Submitted by Dr. Cory Hewko
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as winter depression or winter blues, is a mood disorder in which people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year experience depressive symptoms in the winter, or less frequently in the summer, spring or autumn, repeatedly year after year. Symptoms of SAD may start in the fall and continue into the winter months, draining your energy and making you feel moody. If severe enough it can cause depression but other common symptoms include: hopelessness, anxiety, social withdrawal, oversleeping, appetite changes (especially a craving for carbohydrates), weight gain, difficulty concentrating, and a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed. Although the specific cause of SAD remains unknown, a few specific factors may come into play. Your biological clock (circadian rhythm), melatonin levels and serotonin levels are all affected due to the reduced sunlight hours in the winter. This is especially seen the farther north you go and especially in Canada where the winter months are a lot longer and sunlight hours are very limited.
There is very effective treatment for SAD. If you feel depressed for long periods during autumn and winter, if your sleep and appetite patterns change dramatically and you find yourself thinking about suicide, you should seek professional help immediately from your family doctor. If you have less severe symptoms there are some easy remedies to help combat those “winter blues”. Exercise relieves stress, builds energy and increases your mental and physical well-being. If you exercise indoors, position yourself near a window. Make a habit of taking a daily noon-hour walk. The activity and increased exposure to natural light can raise your spirits.
Many people with SAD also respond exceptionally well to exposure to far infrared heat as far infrared sauna therapy has repeatedly been proven to be an effective form of light therapy.
This type of therapy can help to increase the body's endorphins, which have long been attributed to mood and the body's ability to combat depression.
The far infrared rays from our sauna mimic the benefits of natural sunlight, thereby naturally elevating mood and combating SAD. A study in Czechoslovakia demonstrated that sitting in a sauna for 30 minutes, doubled beta-endorphin (neurotransmitters commonly released during intense exercise) levels in the blood, which relieve pain and may also produce a sense of well-being and euphoria. The relaxation following a sauna may also be due to other chemical changes in the brain. A reduction in stress hormones coupled with an increase in serotonin (associated with elevated mood, relaxation and sleep) induce a deep state of relaxation and promotes better quality of sleep.=s