Winter SADness and Stress - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Winter SADness and Stress

Winter SADness and Stress

Published November 26, 2010

Winter has already arrived, and winter occasionally brings SAD. SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, is a type of depression that is triggered by the seasons of the year. The most common type of SAD is the winter-onset depression, sometimes called winter depression or winter blues. Even though there is no specific diagnostic test for the disorder, the common symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include depression, low energy, fatigue, crying spells, irritability, trouble concentrating, loss of sex drive, changes in sleeping habits, overeating (especially of carbohydrates) and weight gain.
SAD appears to develop from the lack of bright light during the winter months. Exactly how this happens it is not known but research has found that bright light changes the chemicals in the brain and factors like low vitamin D levels in the body are found to be associated with the disorder.
Light therapy, or phototherapy, is one option for treating SAD, since increased light exposure has shown to improve symptoms. There are also light gadgets, like lamps and light visors that are sold in drugstores that claim to treat the disorder. Additionally, psychotherapy and increased social support can also help people who suffer from seasonal affective disorder. And if you have some extra money and time, a trip to the Caribbean might save you the embarrassment of wearing light visors in the office.
Here are your dilemmas and my answers to them:
I feel stressed all the time. I’ve tried yoga as you suggested but I still feel overwhelmed. Do you have any other advice on how to manage stress?
The high cost of living, overdue bills, unemployment, uncertainty, family troubles and modern life annoyances can leave us feeling exhausted and stressed. We all seem to manage stress differently and what represents overwhelming stress for some people may not be perceived as stress by others. Stress is a normal part of our lives and for some people it seems to be commonplace. It is a normal reaction to events that trouble us or make us feel endangered, and a way for our body to defend us from the possibility of threat. Stress is not always bad and it can help us stay alert and active, and in some situations it can even save our lives by giving us the extra strength to defend ourselves or the extra focus to react quickly to threatening situations. Stress releases powerful neurochemicals and hormones that prepare us for action but prolonged, continuous and uncontrollable stress can damage our physical and/or mental health.
The body does not seem to differentiate between physical and psychological threats. When we are stressed over an argument with a family member, losing our jobs, deadlines, or a ton of bills, our body reacts just as powerfully as if we were facing a life-or-death situation. If we have a lot of responsibilities or worries, our emergency stress response may be turned on most of the time, and the more this response is activated the harder it might be to shut off.
Poorly managed stress can manifest itself in a variety of emotional, behavioural, and even physical symptoms that vary among different individuals. Common physical symptoms of excess stress include sleep difficulties, muscle tension, headaches, stomach problems, and fatigue. Emotional and behaviour symptoms include nervousness, anxiety, changes in eating habits, mood changes, excessive cigarette smoking and even drug and/or alcohol abuse.
Stress might seem overwhelming at times, but there are several things that can be done to manage it. Regular exercise hinders the production of stress hormones and associated neurochemicals and can even help us combat anxiety and depression. Meditation, yoga, and relaxation can also help us control our levels of stress by activating the body’s relaxation response and when practiced regularly can increase our ability to stay calm and composed under pressure. Eliminating drug use or drinking in moderation can also help us cope with or eliminate stress. Creating structure and routine can also help us reduce stress by generating predictability in our lives and diminishing the unexpected. Last but not least, a strong support network of friends and family can also be a source of strength to help us cope with stress.

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