Posts Tagged ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder’

‘Tis the Season To Be Jolly … Or SAD? Article for Ageless Living by Helen Foster-Grimmett

December 14, 2012

‘Tis the Season To Be Jolly … Or SAD?
By Helen Foster-Grimmett

Tonight, my husband told me that this article lacked pizzazz. I said: “Sorry, my serotonin is seasonally challenged – no sparkle.” I find myself standing in front of travel agency windows mesmerized by posters of sun-drenched Hawaii, Mexico, Barbados. Mauritius looks delicious.

By Christmas – the season to be jolly – some people have been feeling sad, down, or downright depressed since the onset of autumn. And they’ll motor on through to the first buds of spring feeling the same way. If you are one of those people, you may be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, about five million Canadians experience the “winter blues,” a mild form of Seasonal Affective Disorder. At least two to three percent have symptoms severe enough to be diagnosed as “SAD” – an apt acronym. People with SAD often feel a sense of happiness on a cloudy day when the sun peeks through the clouds, then deflated when the clouds cover the sky again. It’s as if the clouds are a manifestation of their minds. For people with SAD, those inner clouds can be dark, and they sometimes don’t lift until the spring flowers bloom and sunshine is more constant. The Canadian Mental Health Association tells us that women are more at risk for Seasonal Affective Disorder than men: eight times as many women as men report having SAD. Although the reasons for this are not defined, one suggestion is that women may spend more time indoors with their children than men and, therefore, less time in sunlight.

Sunless and SAD
Experts are not sure what causes SAD, but they generally link it to lack of sunlight. SAD is rare in those living within 30 degrees of the equator, where daylight hours are consistently long and bright. It is more common in northern countries, including Canada, where bright winter sunlight is sparse. Lack of light may upset our cycles and other rhythms. It may cause problems with a brain chemical called serotonin, which affects mood. People with mild winter blues manage to cope throughout the season. However, those diagnosed with SAD could feel more severe symptoms, including:
• Depression, apathy, negative thoughts, loss of self-esteem
• Sleep problems
• Lethargy, fatigue
• Overeating or little appetite
• Difficulty with concentration and memory
• Withdrawn – finding it hard to be around people
• Anxiety
• Inability to deal with stress
If you are affected by any of these symptoms, take heart: there are remedies that work wonders for SAD.

Relief for SAD Symptoms
Millions of people with SAD have been helped by the work of Dr. Norman Rosenthal, a world-renowned psychiatrist. Rosenthal and his team at the National Institute of Mental Health pioneered research that first led to describing Seasonal Affective Disorder, and the use of light therapy to treat it.

According to the Seasonal Affective Disorder Association in the UK, “light therapy has been shown to be effective in up to 85 percent of diagnosed cases.” Light therapy is now routinely prescribed for SAD in northern countries, but at the time Rosenthal and his team first used it, the results were dramatic. In his New York Times best-selling book Transcendence, Dr. Rosenthal recalls a comment from one of his colleagues. He had noticed a remarkable change in a patient who had been having light therapy for SAD for just one week: “I don’t know what treatment she is receiving, but she’s blooming like a rose!” A vivid metaphor for our need for light from the life-giving sun.

Dr. Rosenthal’s other guide for readers who suffer from SAD is called Winter Blues. This book provides a self-test that readers can use to evaluate their own seasonal mood changes, presents remedies for SAD, research on the use of medication, and new recipes to counterbalance unhealthy winter food cravings. A cautionary caveat: if you or someone you know is seriously depressed, it is imperative to seek professional advice, as depression can be debilitating or even life-threatening.

The good news? The incidence of Seasonal Affective Disorder decreases with age. So for all you seniors out there, as we approach the holiday season, ‘tis truly the season for you to be jolly!

Helen Foster-Grimmett writes on issues of health, education, and stress management. These days you may find her outside travel agency windows, looking wistful. Article references available upon request.

This is Helen’s 2nd article for the Canadian magazine, Ageless Living. You can read her first article there: The Answer To Cancer.

For more information on Dr. Norman Rosenthal, his work and books: Winter Blues, and Transcendence, visit: http://normanrosenthal.com.

Dr. Norman Rosenthal gives an engaging talk to medical staff at Northern Westchester Hospital

February 22, 2012

Dr. Norman Rosenthal addresses medical staff at NWH

Dr. Norman Rosenthal recently gave a wonderfully engaging talk on the Transcendental Meditation technique to the medical staff of Northern Westchester Hospital as part of their Health Education program.

Norman E. Rosenthal, MD, a world-renowned psychiatrist and author who described seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and pioneered the use of light therapy to treat it has improved the health of millions of people. His latest book Transcendence: Healing and Transformation Through Transcendental Meditation (Tarcher-Penguin, 2011) explores the value of this ancient meditation technique for healing and transformation in today’s modern world.

Dr. Rosenthal began his talk by highlighting the key themes of healing and transformation brought about by TM, and explained how certain parts of the brain are effected by stress and improved by meditation. He humorously described the conflict that exists neurologically in a stressed mind between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala by using the simple analogy of the CEO of a company and the fire marshall. It made a lot of sense. Everyone got it.

Drawing on anecdotes from his best-selling book, Transcendence, Dr. Rosenthal’s relaxed narrative style held the audience’s attention throughout the presentation. He shared personal stories of how TM had improved the lives of those interviewed for the book, like Hollywood filmmaker David Lynch, actress Laura Dern, Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist Tim Page, neuropsychologist William Stixrud, as well as patients from his own practice.

A former NIH researcher, Dr. Rosenthal had looked into, and was impressed by, the volume of scientific research studies on TM in the fields of mental and physical health, education and social behavior. He cited some of these studies, including more recent ones.

Dr. Rosenthal also mentioned a published pilot study he had conducted on Veterans with PTSD that showed a 50% reduction in symptoms within two months. He posted an article about it on his blog, along with an emotionally-charged video of one of the Veterans and his mother:  The Case for Using Transcendental Meditation to Treat Combat Related PTSD.

He told the amazing story of Jim Dierke, principal of Visitacion Valley Middle School, and how he had transformed violent, stressed under-achieving, low-attending students to motivated harmonious academically successful ones with the highest attendance ever, after he had introduced the TM/Quiet Time program to his staff and students. The program was implemented and funded by the David Lynch Foundation. Here is a recent article, with a video of principal Dierke, posted on the TM Blog: Breaking the “predictive power of demographics”: SF principal talks about how TM helps his students.

Dr. Rosenthal also shared his own story of how he started TM as a college student in South Africa back in the 70’s. “As they say, if you remember the 70’s you probably weren’t there, but I was there,” he quipped, and giggled. Like most of us he was inspired by the Beatles traveling to India to study Transcendental Meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. But, he says, he was overwhelmed with his medical studies and didn’t take the time to meditate regularly. He dropped the meditation, yet returned to it decades later after one of his patients recommended he do it based on his own experiences. He went to the local TM center to refresh his practice. After looking into some of the research studies, and noticing subtle yet lasting changes in his own life, he was convinced that this simple, natural process could really make a difference in people’s lives.

Dr. Rosenthal swore he would never write another book; it takes too much time and energy, but after seeing how much of a difference TM was making in his life, and in the lives of his patients, he just had to write this one last book. He felt as compelled to write about TM as he had been about his earlier medical discovery. He was also pleasantly surprised with how enjoyable the whole process went, compared to earlier experiences. He felt the joy of being in the flow, of being in the moment, totally engaged in the creative process. He said the whole experience was very rewarding, uplifting and fulfilling.

He concluded his talk with the value of groups, organizations, practicing TM together, and the impact that has. As an example he mentioned Oprah and how she chose to give TM to her whole organization, and the amazing transformations that brought about. She wrote about it in her magazine, What I Know for Sure.

You can enjoy watching Dr. Rosenthal’s entertaining and informative presentation here on the Northern Westchester Hospital website: http://www.nwhc.net/home/about-us/video-suite/health-education.

Credit and appreciation goes to Sally Rosenfeld, a Certified Teacher of the Transcendental Meditation program, in Westchester County, NY, for arranging to have Dr. Rosenthal speak at Northern Westchester Hospital. Sally said it was a great event, with around 100 people attending from both the hospital and community. Several of them later came to the TM Center to learn how to meditate. Considering how progressive NWH is with their alternative offerings, adding the TM program to the mix would seem like a natural outcome of the meeting.


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