Dr. Zorba Paster: Lights on can equal energy on
Are you blue at this time of year? Do you find your energy is moving in the direction of “I’m a slug — let me curl up with a good book, a blanket around me, and read for the next four months until spring?”
If so, then perhaps, boys and girls, you suffer from SAD, seasonal affective disorder.
Every year, I write about this because I, too, suffer from it. This is not a dreaded disease. It’s not the “Big C,” nothing in that realm, but it does affect quality of life for many of us. Wanting to curl up in bed at 7 p.m. is not something that fits with my DNA. Yet starting after Daylight Saving Time ends, this urge surfaces again with fury.
Am I a plant? Perhaps I have chlorophyll in my DNA that needs sunlight. But more likely, it is that the cortisol levels from my adrenal gland and the natural endorphins that come with being in the sun are just deficient.
The hallmarks of SAD are low energy, sleeping too much, feeling sluggish and just not feeling like doing anything. If you Google it, you’ll find it looks a lot like depression. In fact, this condition shares a lot of those qualities. But for those with pure SAD, they don’t score high on depression screens.
Still, to the point, depression often makes SAD worse and SAD can trigger depression. They do commingle in many people, which is probably why anti-depressants are an excellent treatment for many with SAD. I have a number of patients who start on them at this time of year and get off of them when March roars in like a lion.
For many of you, I highly recommend the SAD light. These are dandy inventions you can buy on the web for less than $50.
The light should be bright, 10,000 lux, a measurement of visual energy output. If it doesn’t say how many lux it has, don’t buy it. Get one with a variable timer, for sure, and a size that fits your needs. I like mine because it’s smaller and portable. Lux matters, size does not.
My daily routine is to sit down with my coffee in the morning, hit my email and websites with my nifty light turned on at my side. You don’t stare into the thing — that would be impossible to do — but I give myself a light bath every morning.
I need it for about four to six weeks. Come about Jan. 6, when I can tell the days are getting longer again, I no longer feel the need to turn the thing on. Others might need it until the first sign of spring.
This light gives me energy and motivation. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like it makes me feel the way I do in the middle of June, when I start projects at 9 p.m. and finish them at midnight. But it does help attenuate the darkness that comes with the season.
Some SAD sufferers still might require an SSRI anti-depressant — a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. This can be an excellent choice, especially if you have a mood disorder. For others, the right treatment is a combination of light therapy and an anti-depressant. But for most, it’s the light that does the trick. Lights on equals energy on.
The other thing that’s essential in fighting SAD is to get out and move. Do something. Anything. That cooped-up feeling often comes because we just, well, coop ourselves up. It’s an unnatural thing to do. It just doesn’t feel as good to be inside all the time.
So buy some excellent new long underwear to keep you warm outdoors. Toss the cotton long johns — they’re not nearly as warm and they bulk you up so you look like the Michelin man.
My spin: If you have the winter blues, brighten up with a nifty SAD light. But don’t forget to go outside. Stay well.