As another year comes to a close, many of us find ourselves in the midst of cooler, shorter days. Leaves are falling, skies are grayer, and these changes tend to affect our moods. For a person with cancer, these can be very difficult days. Not only does fighting a physical battle become more challenging, fighting the mental one becomes trickier.
There’s been a lot of research done on the way seasons affect our moods. In fact, a specific name has been given to the problem. It’s called seasonal affective disorder, or more commonly known by its acronym, SAD.
According to an article posted on the Mayo Clinic’s website, this health issue usually occurs around the same time each year and is most common during the fall and winter months. Some symptoms include: feelings of depression, low energy, hopelessness, an inability to concentrate and problems sleeping. In extreme cases, thoughts of suicide may be present.
It’s important to note that not all feelings of sadness and depression are related to Seasonal Affective Disorder. Some of these feelings come from a sense of helplessness and hopelessness, both of which are felt at times by many cancer patients and survivors. It’s normal to feel discouraged and overwhelmed when cancer brings about unexpected physical changes.
Cancer not only affects our bodies, it can also affect our mental health. Just like feelings of sadness and depression, cancer is beyond our ability to control. That’s why it’s so important to understand not only how it affects the way we think, but also how we feel. And in that same vein, it’s important to remember that feelings aren’t always reality.
There are many ways to combat the symptoms of SAD. In an article posted by the National Institute of Mental Health, light therapy is one helpful method of alleviating symptoms brought on by Seasonal Affective Disorder. According to NIMH, “The idea behind light therapy is to replace the diminished sunshine of the fall and winter months using daily exposure to bright, artificial light.”
Another remedy for helping lift the mood includes increasing levels of Vitamin D which can easily become depleted in the person with cancer. Vitamin D is usually absorbed by the body when exposed to natural sunlight. During fall and winter months, when daylight is diminished and temperatures are colder, those suffering from cancer may find it difficult to be outside, but is it comforting to know many oncologists perform routine tests to check for Vitamin D levels in patients with cancer since the problem of low levels is so common.
Not only are light and vitamin therapy helpful for those affected by seasonal affective disorder, the NIMH, also says, “People with SAD may have trouble regulating one of the key neurotransmitters involved in mood, serotonin. One study found that people with SAD have five percent more serotonin transporter protein in winter months than summer months.”
Seasonal affective disorder can be more problematic for those affected by cancer than those unaffected by health issues. Treatments like chemotherapy, radiation and anti-hormone therapies can exacerbate feelings of sadness and depression leading to increased health issues.
It’s important to discuss increased mood changes or feelings of hopelessness with your doctor. A trained medical professional can easily recognize symptoms of seasonal affective disorder and prescribe recommended courses of treatment.
For those dealing with side effects from cancer, increased feelings of despair can be overwhelming during the fall and winter months. Pay attention to your feelings. If you or your family members notice an increase in feelings of sadness or depression, seek help.
Cancer does have a way of stealing joy but it can only do so if we let it. During these difficult months of dreary days, make sure you remember to keep fighting. And be sure to remember, not only are you fighting for your physical survival, you’re fighting for your mental health as well.