Nina Phillips had heard of a women working at a high-end spa in Seattle suffering with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which left her with lackluster energy and motivation, both vital for people working in a busy facility. After all, not being on top of your game can result in decreased productivity and lost wages, among other things.
“Then I noticed I was experiencing some of the same symptoms. I went to see a doctor, who told me I had SAD,” says Phillips, who works at several hotel spas in Las Vegas. “I was surprised and thought it was unusual considering my location. I’d always believed that SAD only affected people who lived in dark and gloomy places!”
It’s fair to say that not getting enough light in general (and sunshine specifically) can zap your energy and put you in a cantankerous mood. However, an occasional funk is one thing: if your sour frame of mind seems to correspond with the seasons, it could be SAD. Symptoms include feeling tired and irritated, being overly sensitive to criticism and even weight gain (because people with SAD may be tempted to skip exercise and eat more). Experts believe that shorter days and less sunlight disrupt circadian rhythms, messing with the “feel-good” chemical serotonin.
“I believe we’re only starting to understand the crucial effect that light has on our internal systems,” says Las Vegas-based psychotherapist Mindy Taylor, who deals with clients diagnosed with SAD. “The light receptors in our eyes communicate directly with the brain, getting in sync with the circadian clocks that affect our immunity, appetite, mood, energy and even tolerance.”
Phillips said she noticed that when it was cooler and the sun wasn’t shining as brightly, she found herself less than patient with demanding or ungrateful customers. She references one occasion when her employer was offering manicures, pedicures and facials outside at a community event on a dark and windy December day, and remembers having a hard time staying focused and patient with all the walkup traffic.
According to the Mayo Clinic, in most cases, SAD symptoms appear during late fall or early winter and disappear in spring. However, some people experience the opposite, their symptoms first showing up in spring or summer. In either case, symptoms may become more severe as the season progresses.
For those afflicted by SAD, Taylor offers some potential solutions.
“Taking a vitamin D supplement could help. This is essential for brain function, and most Americans don’t get enough of it anyway,” she says. Other suggestions include: loading up on fermented, probiotic-rich foods like yogurt and kimchi, keeping mealtimes constant, staying physically active, and not drinking too much caffeine the night before a work day.
“There could be others reasons why the mood is the way it is—overall depression, gluten problems, sinus and allergy problems related to the spring and fall—it could be a number of things,” Taylor reminds. (As always, check with a doctor before starting supplements and if any symptoms persist).
Phillips said she’s tried walking and hiking at places like nearby Red Rock National Recreational Area and began taking yoga classes. Taylor also suggested she try a light-therapy box that mimics sunshine.
“Now that I know what I’m up against, I’m dealing with it. I’m in a better place to service my customers,” she says.
– by Kevin Harmon