SAD? Get a Back Rub: How Massage Therapy can Alleviate Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Got the winter blues? It might be more than just having a bad day. Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, affects about 4 to 6 percent of Americans severely and 10 to 20 percent may have a mild case of SAD, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. SAD is four times more likely in women than in men and it usually isn’t found in people younger than age 20. Clinical Psychologist and Senior Director of Prevention for the National Mental Health Association, Kathy HoganBruen states:

“There’s a difference between feeling down and being depressed. Being clinically depressed means you have more than just a couple of symptoms and they’ve lasted for more than a couple of days. Before someone receives a diagnosis of SAD, they must experience this consecutively for two years. It’s not just ‘I feel bad one winter, therefore I must have SAD.’ There has to be a history there.”

So What is SAD?
Also called winter blues, summer blues, or seasonal depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder is a common mood disorder where people experience depressive symptoms in the winter or summer year after year while they maintain a healthy mental state during other seasons. Symptoms of SAD include:

  • Fatigue
  • Increased need for sleep
  • Decreased levels of energy
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Increase or decrease in appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Increased desire to be alone
  • Trouble sleeping

Other side effects include sadness, anxiety, irritability, antisocial behavior, and craving for carbohydrates.

What Causes SAD?
The cause of SAD is unknown, but many medical professionals believe it has to do with the lack of sunlight and an increase in melatonin. One theory is that decreased exposure to sunlight in the winter months throws off our biological clocks and thus our moods, sleep patterns, and hormone levels. Other theories suggest the brain chemistry of individuals who suffer from SAD may be different and SAD may be caused by a lack of serotonin. Researchers continue to study this mood disorder in hopes of finding the cause and cure.

Seasonal Affective Disorder and Massage
Massage, combined with light therapy, is reported to help with depression, stress, anxiety, circulation, improved sleep and improved energy levels. Massage helps depressive disorders because it releases endorphins, produced in the brain and spinal cord, into the body. These endorphins act as analgesics, or painkillers, as well as sedatives. These endorphins, released in response to neurotransmitters, bind to the same neuron receptors as pain medicines without leading to addiction or dependence.

Massage therapy also lowers the heart rate, lowers blood pressure, positively stimulates the nerve endings, removes toxins, and improves circulation helping to energize the body, improve concentration and create a euphoric feeling. Hence massage therapy has been successful in treating SAD because the positive effects can be felt immediately. It is advised to receive between two and four massage per month you suffer from SAD to optimize treatment.

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