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Seasonal Affective Disorder
If you are like most people, you feel a little blue when winter comes. The days are short and gray, the nights are long and cold. You may feel a little less energetic, sleep more or eat more. You may feel sad. But it probably doesn’t interfere significantly with your daily life.
For some people, though, the symptoms are much more severe. They suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) S.A.D. is a form of depression that seems to be brought on by the lessening of the light during winter. (A much less common, manic, version seems to be triggered by more light during summer months.) The condition is rare in people younger than 20.
Doctors are not sure what causes S.A.D., although likely culprits include change in sleep cycles; increase in melatonin, a sleep-related hormone linked to depression; and drops in serotonin, a chemical in the brain also linked to depression.
According to The Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of winter S.A.D. include:
Loss of energy
Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
Difficulty concentrating and processing information.
Generally, these symptoms begin in late fall or early winter, they get worse as the winter progresses, and they ease when spring and summer arrive.
If you experience these symptoms for more than a few days, and especially if you feel hopeless or suicidal, you should seek medical help. Treatments can include psychiatric counseling and antidepressants and other medication, as well as light therapy, in which you sit in front of a light therapy machine that simulates natural light.
Mayo suggests some strategies for coping if you suffer from S.A.D., including:
Follow your treatment plan. As with other forms of depression, it is important to take medication and go to therapy sessions as directed.
Let the sunshine in. Make your home lighter by opening your blinds, adding skylights and removing tree branches or shrubbery that block light.
Sit in the sun. Even if it is cold, get outside and soak up the sun.
Keep moving. Exercise can help relieve the stress and anxiety that can accompany S.A.D.
Don’t get worn down. Get enough sleep, eat well, and take time for yourself. Don’t try to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.
Manage your stress, using whatever stress management techniques work for you, such as yoga, meditation, visualization, etc.
Stay connected. Don’t hole up in your house. Get out, get together with people you enjoy. They can help you have fun, and they also can offer support.
Get out of town. Consider taking a trip to somewhere where it is summer all year round.