MS AND SEASONAL, “WINTER” DEPRESSION

MS & Winter Saddness

 Are You Suffering With Seasonal Affective Disorder; SAD?

In the winter months, it seems like that is when I focus the most on my Multiple Sclerosis. Living in the South, winter brings such a large temperature variation; it can range from 70’s down to the 10’s on any given day. I am like a human barometer, the day before a drastic change, my body starts to signal the coming changes. Sore stiff muscles, headache, and even nausea are just a few signs that a front is heading our way. The cold weather aggravates my MS, but when adding in wet weather to the mix, things tend to get a little harder to tolerate. I have laughingly told people that my body runs on solar power; that the sun being out no matter what the temps are makes my body happier. Looking back though, more relapses for me do happen in the colder months.

For many of you, it is the warmer even hot weather that you have your problems. This made me wonder if the climate in which we are accustom to living in has anything to do with that? Example, living in the North, you tend to have cooler weather except for a few months of the year, as for us in the South it is opposite. What average temperature is our body happy with? Of course, seeing and feeling the sun, for me at least, is more of a mental component to feeling better. I guess maybe that is why there is such a thing as “seasonal depression” or SAD, seasonal affective disorder. Our mood also affects how we feel and symptoms we experience. This condition is not just limited to all of us with MS; many people feel worse in the winter. There have been many arguments and research that suggest that the sun, or natural bright light, regulates the body rhythms. Winter months you have darker shorter days which in return lessen the ability to get this light. Some researchers believe this can also be linked to genetics; it runs in families.

We all have somewhat of an internal clock, when our bodies are accustomed to waking up or getting sleepy at certain times of the day/night. You might be able to relate to when the time changes in the fall or spring, just even that 1 hour difference causes us some issues until we get used to it. This internal clock has to do with our body rhythm, and when out of sync, so comes this condition. Of course there are different degrees of severity, but why this happens or to whom it happens is still a mystery. Any type of depression makes us feel bad; pain is worse, fatigue becomes overwhelming, problems are harder to handle. No doubt, we believe our MS is worse. So what do we do about it?

From everything I have read, there is no sure concrete treatment. For some it is as simple as taking a pill, anti-depressant. If you are anything like me, taking yet another “pill” just makes you frustrated; I HATE TAKING MEDICINE! Some of the researchers have suggested that as the weather gets colder, we make changes to our daily routine by decreasing our activity. More people tend to stay in where it is warm and more television is watched during winter months. There is something to be said about staying on a routine, getting out of the house, and even performing simple exercises to help decrease seasonal depression. Have you ever woke up feeling bad or not quite like yourself but work, a doctor appointment, or even a trip to the grocery store made you have to get a shower, get dressed, and get out of the house? That activity probably helped you feel better or even take the focus off how bad you thought you felt. This is what I am speaking about here; make yourself move and get involved in something other than sitting on the couch and using the remote control button. Any type of activity, even just moving around in the house if you CAN’T get out, is better than sitting still.

I have written a blog about the importance of staying on some type of routine to assist with memory, especially when taking medications, also because IT KEEPS YOU MOVING. As great as it feels to just sit under a warm blanket and sip on a warm beverage, our muscles suffer from lack of movement; they get weak making it difficult to perform. Our heart is a muscle and needs physical activity to keep it working correctly. Exercise, even just simple walking cuts down on heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 Diabetes, and assists with memory. The biggie here is that is also helps cut down on DEPRESSION! If you suffer with any of these disorders I just mentioned, wouldn’t it be great to be able to stop taking medications to treat these? I hate being sad or even crying over a stupid commercial; and it doesn’t help relationships either. Most people stay away from depressed individuals because it tends to bring them down.  Some other things suggested to assist with this disorder is to put brighter light bulbs in during winter months and to open up the curtains especially during morning hours to increase with light sensitivity. Take walks if able during morning hours, which are when the brightest natural light affects us positively. Even the use of tanning beds provides warmth and light to help improve our sensitivity; but use caution to protect your skin. Remember also to take your vitamin D. All of us with MS tend to run a low level of this vitamin and since we naturally get it from the sun, winter months can cause it to be lower.

No matter which method you chose to handle Seasonal Depression, or SAD; don’t just live with it. This is a very treatable disorder; and when you mentally feel better so will you physically.

MS Blogger and Multiple Sclerosis Activist shares her journey living with MS, tips for others living MS and her husband, Steve, offers his insight as a caregiver for MS.
  • Chris Okon

    So true. I bought a sun lamp* which helps during those cold sunless days. I also hang some white Christmas lights in my home office.

    *Sun Touch Plus Light and Ion Therapy.