Have you ever noticed that your mood is affected by the weather? Often, our spirits are lifted on a bright sunny day while a dull, cold, and rainy day may make us feel a little gloomy.
Although these are normal reactions to the changing seasons, some people experience a much more serious or intense reaction during the transition from fall to winter. This condition is called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This is a type of depression that is correlated to the changes in seasons.
For many professional truck drivers, the long dark days of winter can have a significant effect on their moods. It is common for drivers to spend many hours behind the wheel of their truck during a workday. During the winter months, when the hours of daylight are reduced, truck drivers will spend more time driving in the dark.
To add to this, much of their workday is spent alone.
As a result, truck drivers are at risk of developing SAD.
As with many conditions, the exact cause of SAD is still unknown. However, recent studies have shown that age, genetics, and the chemical make-up of your body play an important role in developing this condition. Research in Ontario suggests that 2-3% of the general population has SAD. Although it may affect some children and teenagers, SAD most commonly affects people over the age of 20. This condition is more common in women than in men.
SAD is thought to be related to the seasonal variations in the amount daylight we are exposed to. The reduced level of sunlight in the fall and winter may disrupt our body’s internal clock, which tells us when we should be sleeping or awake. To add to this, changes in sunlight exposure may affect biological chemicals such as serotonin and melatonin. Both of these chemicals play a role in sleep and mood regulation. As a result, shift workers are at greater risk, as their schedules may cause them to be exposed to very little natural daylight.
The symptoms of SAD are similar to several other psychological conditions such as depression or bipolar disorder. However, SAD is a cyclical condition, which means the signs and symptoms usually come and go at the same time each year.
In most cases, the symptoms of SAD appear during the late fall or early winter and go away during the warmer, brighter days of spring. Symptoms may include: depression; anxiety; weight gain; loss of energy; oversleeping; difficulty concentrating; and irritability.
Normally, the symptoms of SAD will disappear in the early spring or summer.
It is important to take SAD seriously, as it can lead to serious complications if left untreated. It is advised to seek medical help if you are experiencing the above-mentioned symptoms. The good news is, there are effective treatments for SAD.
The first line of treatment consists of spending more time outside during the day and arranging your home (or cab) to maximize the amount of light that enters.
Things such as trimming tree limbs and opening the curtains work very well. In addition, physical activity is recommended as it will boost energy levels as well as relieve stress.
In more severe cases of SAD, light therapy may be the treatment of choice. This therapeutic approach consists of sitting beside a specialized light therapy box for several minutes per day. This specialized light will mimic natural daylight, relieving the symptoms of SAD. I recently had a patient, who is a truck driver, diagnosed with SAD by his medical doctor. After using the specialized light in his truck for two weeks, he felt a significant improvement in his symptoms. After one month of use, his SAD symptoms were completely gone.
Another form of treatment that is becoming more and more popular is counseling or psychotherapy. The goal of these therapies is to help identify and eliminate negative thoughts as well as provide coping strategies. Finally, if all other treatments fail, your doctor may recommend antidepressants or other psychiatric medications.
As you can see, SAD can become a serious and debilitating problem for some people. Due to their job demands, professional truck drivers are particularly at risk.
Although there is no way to completely prevent this condition, it is possible to minimize its effects by following these simple hints.
Until next time, drive safely.
Dr. Christopher H. Singh runs Trans Canada Chiropractic at the 230 Truck Stop in Woodstock, Ont. He can be reached at 519-421-2024.