Waiting for the Sun

Avoiding Seasonal Affective Disorder.

We’ve all woken up on a pitch-black winter morning to get ready for work or school. Eight short hours later, we drive home and what do you know? It’s already dark. The majority of Montanans go about their lives with low levels of Vitamin D during the winter season. Studies have shown Vitamin D deficiencies may be linked to depression, and in winter, this is called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or its apt acronym, SAD. Even if you’re active in the winter months, your reduced exposure to sunlight might be causing SAD anyway.

SAD is typically treated with Vitamin D supplements, light therapy, psychotherapy, and prescribed anti-depressants. Symptoms of SAD include loss of interest in hobbies or activities, irritability, fatigue, change in sleep patterns and/or eating habits, and mental “fogginess.” Furthermore, people tend to stay indoors and activity levels decrease in winter months. This can alter the body’s production of endorphins, our body’s natural anti-depressant.

If you experience SAD, you should consider massage therapy to relieve some of your symptoms. Massage decreases our level of cortisol (our stress hormone), allowing the body to restore proper function of our parasympathetic nervous system, or our “rest-and-digest” system. Massage also increases our body’s natural ability to produce endorphins, which strengths our mind/body connection and increases our general sense of well-being. As a licensed massage therapist, I witness the effects that massage therapy has on individuals that lead high-stress, high-anxiety lives, and it’s nothing short of amazing. Clients can take a “time out” and literally learn to breathe again. 

This winter, consider massage as an individual therapy or as a complementary therapy to your current medical treatment. Massage may also help you cope with the side effects of antidepressants, depending on the type of medication that has been prescribed. Inform your massage therapist of any medications currently used and their potential side effects. While you might have to wait for the longer days or summer before getting higher levels of Vitamin D, you don’t have to suffer through another gloomy winter. Let massage help you through the season.

SAD Stats
While no one can deny that winter leads to an increased urge to stay in bed and plow through another season of Breaking Bad, useful stats on SAD are hard to pin down. Here are some of the more eye-opening numbers. 

10 million: Number of Americans suffering from SAD
6: Percentage of sufferers who require hospitalization
75: Percentage of sufferers who are women
60: Recommended number of minutes in front of “bright-light lamp” for treatment
20s, 30s, and 40s: Ages most likely to suffer from SAD

Avoid SAD: go skiing. 

Cheryl McDonald is a licensed massage therapist and the owner of Origins Massage & Bodywork LLC. in Bozeman.