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Meditation can help alleviate symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Tags: stress, antiaging

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a psychiatric disorder characterized by depression, hopelessness and headaches during the winter months (and rarely during the summer months), and it is believed to result from the amount of daylight. There appears to be no correlation between SAD and stress.

Not everyone becomes chronically depressed during the winter; many people get a mild form of the “winter blues” and their symptoms go undiagnosed and untreated. Light therapy is effective in treating the symptoms of SAD; however, some research points to a deficiency in the pineal gland as a possible cause of SAD.

E. Leskowitz of the Department of Psychiatry at Boston’s VA Outpatient Clinic conducted a study in 1989 that pointed to the role of the pineal gland on SAD.

The pineal gland is responsible for the body’s sleep/wake patterns; it is a photosensitive organ (via the eyes) and its production of sleep-inducing melatonin are increased during darkness and decreased during the day. the relationship between the pineal gland and the shortened days of winter is not understood; but stimulation of the pineal gland by meditating appears to be an effective treatment.

Meditation has been shown to be effective in treating sleep disorders due to the release of calming hormones, suppression of stress hormones, full-body relaxation and stimulation of the pineal gland.

Dr. Norman Rosenthal is a world-renown psychiatrist who has researched the effects of meditation (specifically, transcendental meditation) on SAD, the term he coined. Dr. Rosenthal pioneered the use of light therapy and meditation to treat SAD and continues to research the benefits of transcendental meditation on many psychiatric disorders.

In addition to stimulating the pineal gland and releasing melatonin, meditation effectively relaxes both the body and the mind. This relaxation leads to increased activity in the parts of the brain associated with happiness (specifically the left prefrontal cortex) and decrease activity in the parts of the brain associated with stress.

Because of the effect that emotions have on the body and the effect that the state of the body has on moods, it makes sense to improve one’s outlook and feelings of well-being as part of the treatment for SAD.

Many studies show that long-term meditators such as Buddhist monks are among some of the happiest people alive; and from a purely physiological point of view, it is due in part to a highly active left prefrontal cortex and the corresponding inactivity of the amygdala. Even novice meditators experience increased feelings of happiness and better control of their emotions.

SAD doesn’t have to be treated medically with antidepressants if meditation is used in conjunction with light therapy to restore the body’s normal rhythms.