Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Seasonal Affective Disorder in WinterSimply put – Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a reaction to the changing season that causes problems with mood and behavior.  These mood and behavior changes tend to start around September and may last until April.  According to S.A. Saeed in the March 1998 issue of American Family Physician, 4-6% of the general population experiences winter depression and an additional 10-20% have low-level features of the disorder. In the Journal for the Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (February 1998) J. Giedd reported that 3-5% of students in the 4th through 6th grade meet the criteria for SAD.  Women are 4 times more likely to be diagnosed with SAD and the average age of onset is 23.  Giedd reported that 9% of adults with SAD had an onset prior to 11 and 33% reported an onset prior to age 19.

The symptoms of SAD include sleep problems, overeating, depressed mood, family problems, lethargy, physical complaints, and behavioral problems.  Individuals experiencing sleep problems associated with SAD are most likely to report oversleeping, but not feeling refreshed when they awaken.  Then may report difficulty getting out of bed, or the need for frequent naps in the after.  (Think hibernation)

Overeating tends to be a problem in several ways.  First, people with SAD often crave and eat carbohydrates.  This generally leads to weight gain.  (Again, think hibernation).  Weight gain then contributes to depression.  In addition, ingestion of carbohydrates can cause rapid blood sugar fluctuations when also impact mood.

Persons with SAD typically aren’t much fun to be around.  They will often avoid company or when they are with other people they may be highly irritable.  Loss of sexual interest is also common.  In general, folks with SAD feel too tired to cope with daily living.  Everything feels like a tremendous effort.  Normal tasks become difficult.  Joint pain and stomach problems become more frequent and they may have lowered resistance to infection.  As if that isn’t enough, people with SAD are depressed.  They may use words like despair, misery, guilt, anxiety, or hopelessness to describe their mood.

By this time you may be wondering what causes this disorder.  My witty reply would be “living in Ohio.”  Actually, where you live can be part of the problem.  There is a structure in the brain called the pineal gland, and during night/darkness, this gland produces melatonin that makes us drowsy.  Bright light is the off switch for the melatonin production.  On dull winter days (there are a lot of those in Dayton) there is not enough light to trigger the pineal gland.  Bright light has also been associated with another brain chemical – serotonin.  You know about that one because it is associated with depression.

Using sunshine to treat seasonal affective disorderBoth the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association recommend light therapy as the primary treatment strategy for SAD.  This isn’t ordinary reading light.  For this type of treatment the light must be at least 2500 lux.  That’s five times brighter than the well-lit office.  Believe it or not, light therapy does have some side effects for a few people including a jittery feeling, excitability, mild nausea, or burning of the eyes.

What can you do if you are one of the mild, moderate, or severe sufferers of SAD?

  1. See your primary care physician.  The diagnosis deserves careful attention since the symptoms overlap with other disorders.
  2. Increase your exposure to natural sunlight, if not medically contraindicated.
  3. Decrease consumption of carbohydrates.  Again, check this out with your physician before making a big dietary change.
  4. Ask your physician about light therapy.

I’ve used it.   And it works!

Thinner This Year

Book cover image for Thinner This YearThinner This Year: A Diet and Exercise Program for Living Strong, Fit, and Sexy was more challenging for me than was Younger Next Year.  That doesn’t mean that I didn’t like it, but I had to concentrate more to get the information.  Chris Crowley’s witty style is definitely present and Jennifer Sachek’s portions are interesting, but contain so much important information that it was less entertaining.  Together they are a complete package.

Younger Next Year was a game changer for me. I rarely miss a work out.  I don’t think I’ll ever enjoy it as much as Chris does, but I’m definitely a convert and have been since I first read it in 2014.  With regards to the diet component, that’s a little tougher because of my food allergies. I can’t just lift the advice from the pages and apply it quite as easily as I can the exercise part. The overarching message of don’t eat garbage is applicable though.

Remarkably, what I gained from Thinner This Year isn’t just knowledge.  Although a large portion is a how-to book, there is a significant amount of the book dedicated to why-to.  Even more important is that is sparked my excitement about making a few changes. I have a bit more belief in my ability to modify my lifestyle and I have a stronger belief in the necessity of doing it.

As you can tell, I highly recommend reading this book.

Younger Next Year

Book Cover of Younger Next YearThree letters sum up my reaction to the book Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy – Until You’re 80 and Beyond by Chris Crowley and Henry Lodge. You choose either WOW or OMG.  For me, this book was a life-changer. In reality, a lot of the information, the what, was not new to me.  What was new was the why.  And in this book, the why is pretty compelling. I found myself actually wanting to get to the gym more. That is pretty amazing. My diet is really pretty good, but I found myself wanting to make it better. The comparison between aging and decaying rattled around in my head almost constantly for the first few months after reading the book. I was convinced pretty early in the beginning chapters that decaying is a very bad think and generally preventable.

book cover from Younger Next Year for WomenYounger Next Year is a book by men and about men. That was not a turn off to me but it might be for some women. I was readily able to see that the science is the same, no matter the gender. Don’t despair though, there is a version Younger Next Year for Women.  No matter which one you choose, the important thing is to read the book and follow Harry’s Rules.  I am absolutely confident that they can change lives.

Heart Break

An article, reported in the BBC hit a little too close to home a few years ago.  Spoiler Alert – the answer is yes! The question was Can you die of a broken heart? The problem they were talking about is a physiological change in the heart as the result of psychological or emotional stress. In the 1990s Japanese researchers began calling this Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy.  This name resulted from the left ventricle of the heart ballooning out to resemble a takotsubo, a fishing pot used to trap octopuses.

The article went on to talk about the different kinds of stress that can cause this, including bombs, war, and other life-threatening events. I am here to tell you that it doesn’t take anything that bad to induce takotsubo cardiomyopathy.  How do I know? It happened to me a few years ago.  I was sitting at my desk at the end of a very stressful, but not catastrophic day and BAM!, crushing chest pain. After a trip to the local hospital (another horror story) and many tests, takotsubo cardiomyopathy  was diagnosed.

Very little is really known about this disorder, and even less is known about treatment. It does occur more frequently in women, particularly post-menopausal women, than it does in men. For most people, all the signs point to a heart attack. Initial symptoms, EKG, and lab tests all look like an MI.  In fact, going into my cardiac catheterization the cardiologist told me to expect that I would be coming out of there with at least one stint.  Imagine my relief when he told me there was no clot or muscle damage and that my coronary arteries looked good. It wasn’t until later when I started reading about this that I found out it can still be lethal.

So ladies….and gentlemen, if you have chest pain go to the hospital.  Don’t dismiss your symptoms (or the symptoms of others) simply as stress.  As I’ve said before — Stress Kills.