A good acronym is hard to come by. At best, most conditions or institutions can hope for a non-sensical one such as FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Association) and IMHO (In My Humble Opinion). Sometimes the acronym serves as more of a distraction from the actual institution such as S.A.G. (Screen Actors Guild) which brings to mind a taffy making machine more than glamorous Hollywood stars. Then there are acronyms that come fairly close such as M.A.D.D. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving). It’s strong and implies furious, determined action. But the rarest of all acronyms, the Holy Grail toward which all conditions and institutions strive, is the one that actually conveys the condition or the purpose of the institution. S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is that acronym. It actually spells out the main symptom of the condition. It’s just ironic that people who suffer from S.A.D. are, by definition, unable to enjoy the perfection of the acronym.
S.A.D., as the name conveys, is a “disorder,” aka problem, that occurs seasonally and has to do with “affect,” aka mood. People who suffer from S.A.D. tend to develop major depression in the fall and winter and recover in the spring and summer. It is believed to be caused by a change in the body’s internal clock in response to fewer daylight hours. This change in the internal clock, in turn, affects the levels of serotonin, one of the chemical signals that brain cells use to communicate with each other. When serotonin levels drop, people get symptoms of depression.
Since this imbalance of serotonin is brought about by decreased exposure to light, one would think that increasing one’s exposure to light would help treat the problem. And one would be right! My, how smart one is. Has one been working out one’s brain?
So if exposure to light can help, the next question is how much light is needed? Before we can decide how much light is needed, we need to come up with a way of measuring light and, fortunately, light scientists (meaning scientists that study light, not scientists that have successfully completed a weight loss program) have come up with a way. Light is measured in luxes. There is also a brand of soap named Lux, but I’m sure there’s no relation. Unless the soap leaves one so clean that one radiates light. Or perhaps L.U.X. is an acronym like Light Up like Xenon!
But I digress.
10,000 lux a day is usually sufficient to treat S.A.D. To put that in perspective, a living room is usually lit at 50 lux, a typical office is lit at 350-500 lux, a cloudy day is over 1000 lux, a sunny day is over 10,000 lux.
The other way to address S.A.D. is to directly address the serotonin levels. That’s where medications come in. Antidepressants can increase serotonin levels, thereby improving S.A.D. symptoms.
Having said all that, many people express their dislike of the clock being rolled back in the fall. I call it Dislike of Fall Roll Back, aka DFRB. (That is not an officially recognized acronym. But it is now our little secret. We can use it to identify each other at our secret rendez vous on New Year’s Eve. I’ll wear “2016” glasses so you can easily find me). DFRB can be differentiated from S.A.D. by how strongly the symptoms interfere with one’s functioning. People with DFRB can still be productive with their academics, sleep OK and enjoy holiday get togethers. People with S.A.D. have difficulty being productive and having fun.
With winter solstice right around the corner, the days will soon start getting longer, which is good news for all the S.A.D. sufferers out there. But in the meantime, treatment options are available so that everyone can enjoy the beauty of a perfect acronym.
Wishing everyone a great start to their Winter Quarter.
Ali Javanbakht, M.D. is a Board Certified Family Physician and Medical Director of UCSB Student Health: studenthealth.sa.ucsb.edu.
This article is part of the Daily Nexus regular column “THE DOC IS IN” coordinated by UCSB Alcohol and Drug Program staff. Articles feature information and advice from UCSB Student Health clinicians and other health professionals on and around campus.