Fighting The Winter Blues

As we get closer to winter, there is less and less daylight. While some people may miss leaving work while it is daylight out, for others the shorter days have a more debilitating effect. Almost ten million Americans suffer from seasonal affective disorder, S.A.D. for short.

Its victims can't get out of bed and can't focus on their work. They become depressed. It interferes with all the activities of daily living.

How do you know if you are one of them? Here are a few things to watch out for:

  • Depression in varying degrees.
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Problems concentrating
  • A craving for sweet foods and carbohydrates

If you suffer from any of these symptoms only during the winter, you might suffer from S.A.D. Doctors believe that exposure to light affects the levels of serotonin, a chemical in the brain that control a person's mood, appetite, and sleep patterns.

There is good news for treating S.A.D. Research has shown that light boxes are very effective in relieving S.A.D. symptoms. Sitting in front of one for half an hour every day can reduce symptoms in more than half of the cases.

You don't need to look right into the light. You can read or eat breakfast while sitting in front of it. The bright light simulates daylight, fooling the body into thinking the days are longer. We don't know exactly how it works.

But it's important to note that people should not diagnose themselves.. See a doctor. Make sure you're suffering from S.A.D. before you treat it.

Another way to treat S.A.D. is to get outside a lot in the middle of the day. Instead of sitting at your desk, take a walk and get some sunlight.

This will not help in cases of mild depression. By definition, seasonal effective disorder occurs only during the winter months, so in effect it is a subset of depression.

By Dr. Emily Senay
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