I’ve been feeling blue lately. I choose to blame winter. Now that daylight saving time has ended, the sun sets before I get home from work, making 5:30 feel like 8:30 to my body and 8:30 feel more like 11:30—which is past my bedtime. I feel sluggish and tired in the evening, and my motivation is as hard to find as those elusive car keys I keep misplacing. On those rare days when I do get to be out in the sun (read: the weekends) the sunlight feels weak, making me feel even more glum. (Extreme cold doesn’t help my disposition either.)
Seasonal Affective Disorder is common among Americans. In fact, more than half a million people worldwide suffer from this winter depression. The changes in sunlight can affect our natural biological clocks and increase production of melatonin, an important sleep-related hormone. Lower levels of sunlight can also lead to decreased production of vitamin D, which has been linked to depression.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, a form of depression caused by the changing light in winter, affects half a million people worldwide. Photo By Michaël Korchia/Courtesy Flickr.
I was discussing these “winter blues” with a friend of mine who works at the psych clinic at the University of Kansas, and she told me about a program the clinic offers as a natural depression treatment (and an alternative to medication) called Therapeutic Lifestyle Change, or TLC.
TLC’s theory on depression is based on long-established biological needs and a modern lifestyle that doesn’t accommodate them. Today we live in a hectic, fast-paced world where processed food is the norm, our days are spent inside and sitting down, and technological innovations take the personal interaction out of communication. Our ancestors lived much different lives: they were active beings who spent most of their outside, living in close communities and eating a natural, unprocessed diet. TLC’s theory is that while our lifestyles have evolved, our bodies have not—and in this gap is where we find depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder.
What I like about the TLC program is that it doesn’t offer an effortless solution or “magic pill” to a complex and serious problem—and you don’t need to be diagnosed with depression or SAD for it work for you. Anyone can benefit from the TLC program, and as the program only offers positive side effects—no nausea, vomiting or hallucinations here!—its tenants can be incorporated as part of a healthy lifestyle.
The Therapeutic Lifestyle Change program is based on six principles:
• Anti-Rumination (thinking happy thoughts!)
• Social Support
Join me over the next few weeks as I explore the tenants of the TLC program and how it can benefit depression. And remember—it's not one but all of these changes combined that have the potential to relieve depression.
(Depression is a chronic illness; if you think you may have depression, please consult a physician.)