Terri Kersch

Terri Kersch, MA, CWC, CHES
Certified Wellness Coach
Certified Health Education Specialist

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Terri’s Tilt — Seasonal Affective Disorder Need Not Make Us SAD…

The Groundhog might have delighted skiers and outdoor enthusiasts, but for more than one half million Americans, the news of six more weeks of winter, seriously aggravate an already distressing disorder. For anyone living with winter SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), the month of February, while shortest of all, too often enhances SAD symptoms.

SAD is more common in women than men and usually starts in people in their 20’s. As you might expect, it is more common in northern regions where winters are longer and harsher. Symptoms of SAD include depression, irritability and anxiety, loss of energy, social withdrawal, oversleeping, appetite changes, weight gain and difficulty concentrating.

Research indicates many factors at play in people with SAD. Lack of sunlight may disrupt our body’s internal clock and circadian rhythm, which we know increase feelings of depression. Seasonal changes also affect our natural hormone melatonin levels, which affect our sleep patterns and mood. Further, a drop in the brain neurotransmitter serotonin, (from lack of sunshine) may also lead to depression.

The good news for people living with SAD is that it is treatable. Not only are there medications for severe cases, there are also safe and effective ways to lift our spirits during the dark days of winter.

  • Light therapy, which mimics outdoor’s rays, 15 – 30 minutes daily can elevate our serotonin and melatonin levels linked to mood, and with few side effects.

  • Exercise! Physical exercise is one of the most positive stress management techniques available to everyone. Feeling more fit, makes us feel better about ourselves and thus lifts our mood.

  • Get outside. Bundle up, layer appropriately, and get outside. Even in the cold and cloudy days in the Northeast, outdoor light can help our mood. Research suggests time outside within 2 hours of getting up can lift the spirit for the day.

  • Bring the light inside. Open window curtains and let the light shine in. Work near windows when possible…letting you appreciate the view while lifting your mood.

  • If using medication for SAD, stick to your medical regimen.

  • Reduce stress. We know stress exaggerates any medical condition.

  • Socialize. Spending time with people you enjoy is a powerful sense of support and resource for different perspective.

  • Take care of yourself. A mentor of mine always left us with this mantra: In life, we should strive to

    • Prevent what is preventable

    • Treat what is treatable

    • Live fully with the rest it

Everyone can recognize the challenge of this last suggestion. How do we live fully with ‘stuff’ that we do not like, seemingly cannot prevent, and once full blown, have trouble treating? We can blame the Groundhog all we want…but a more proactive approach is symptom control. If we tune in to the onset of symptoms, we can get control of them before they lead to an onslaught of serious changes in mood, appetite or energy level. Then, too, it is up to us to find the positive in life. That might be something as simple as the steps mentioned above, or discovering and doing what pleases you: read a good book, view a funny movie, laugh…remember simpler times, enjoy friendship…including your own. This also includes knowing when to ask for help in terms of medical attention. It is always a sign of strength to ask for professional help.

So there, Groundhog! Bring on those last weeks of winter. We are armed with practical steps to diminish the damage, and Spring is around the corner!


Terri Kersch     (518) 368-2285     Contact me via email
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