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For Your Consideration: SAD Alternatives

To wrap up our look at SAD, seasonal affective disorder, and its management and treatment, let’s take a look at some of the alternative approaches to easing its symptoms.  SAD is already a condition that is difficult to diagnose with absolute certainty, but you may find it a bit peculiar that something so low tech as light therapy is one of the most commonly prescribed conventional treatments.  If light therapy is conventional, then what on earth could the alternatives treatments involve?  Thunderbolts? Hypnotism?

Those are fair questions.  Most of the alternatives involve herbal supplements and remedies and mind-body techniques.  We have discussed at some length over the past weeks how difficult it is to apply clinical trial standards to assessments of the efficacy of alternative and complementary medicine.  It is not clear just how effective some of the CAM treatments are for seasonal affective disorder, though some appear to really help.

As usual, check with your regular doctor before proceeding with alternatives to be sure the treatment is safe for you.  And also note that alternative treatments on their own may not be enough to provide relief.

Supplements that are used to treat depression include:

  • Melatonin.  This is a natural hormone that helps regulate your mood.  It is thought that a change in the season may disrupt or change your body’s melatonin level, thereby affecting your mood.
  • St. John’s Wort.  St. John’s Wort is an herb that has been used to treat depression, and a host of other disorders, for years.  For mild to moderate depression, it may help.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids.  This is an interesting approach, one still being carefully studied.  Omega-3 fatty acid supplements have many health benefits and may help relieve the symptoms of depression.  The main source of omega-3s is fish oil,  including that of  herring, mackerel and salmon.  There are also vegetarian sources, including some nuts and grains.  It is not yet established if these vegetarian sources are as effective as fish oil.
  • SAMe.  SAMe is used in Europe as a prescription medication to treat depression.  It is a synthetic form of a chemical that naturally occurs in the body.  At present, SAMe has not been approved by the FDA to treat depression in the US.
Because both SAMe and St. John’s Wort interact with medications used to treat other conditions, most particularly antidepressants, it is very important that you talk to your doctor before using either of these remedies.
 Mind-body therapies used to relieve the symptoms of depression include:
Managing your seasonal affective disorder is challenging.  Here are some tips to help you cope:
  • Take care of yourself.  Eat properly – which means lots of fresh fruits and veggies – and from a plate, at a table, not standing at the fridge or in the car.  Get your exercise.  Get enough rest and take time to relax.  Avoid using alcohol and illegal drugs for relief.
  • Stick to your treatment plan.  It is very important to take any medications exactly as directed, and to keep all therapy appointments.
  • Socialize, socialize, socialize.  Nothing is harder than being social and out and about when you feel down and low.  But make the effort.  People you enjoy being around can lift your spirits, offer you support, a shoulder, a laugh, just company.  Resist the temptation to retreat.
  • Manage that stress. Stress is a demanding thing, kind of like a spoiled child.  Left unattended, it will get  into all sorts of trouble. Stress that is not acknowledged or managed can quickly lead to deeper depression, overeating, substance abuse and other destructive thoughts and behaviors.  There are many good techniques that help you manage your stress better.  Learn a few – and use them!
  • Travel, take a trip.  Going someplace warm and sunny for a week or two during the winter isn’t just for the elderly and college freshman.  It can really give you a boost, enough to get you through the rest of the winter.  And, of course, if you have summer SAD, a trip to a cool lake or the mountains will do the same thing.
So far, no one has figured out a way to altogether prevent seasonal affective disorder from happening or developing.  It just shows up, like the seasons themselves.  We can, however, anticipate its arrival – the predictability of its onset is a plus, here.  Many sufferers find it helpful to begin their course of treatment before the symptoms make their regular appearance.  Taking control of the situation before the symptoms worsen really works: we are then savvy survivors and not simply besieged victims.  And that always feels better!
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