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Health Notes | Do You Have The Winter Blues?

Winter holidays bring a sense of joy and celebration for some people but others experience them from a pit of dark and lonely isolation. Slowing down in winter is normal but when symptoms of clinical depression appear during the winter months — a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) — the “winter blues” or “winter doldrums” become more ominous than just feeling down.

If your lack of enthusiasm in winter includes the symptoms mentioned below, you may have SAD:

  • Sleep disturbances
  • Overeating
  • Feeling low
  • Persistent tiredness
  • Loss of interest in activities you usually enjoy
  • Persistent sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness
  • Loss of your sense of humor
  • Suicidal thoughts and thinking of ways of leaving the planet.

SAD is believed to result from the lack of bright light in the winter. Like major depression, it’s an illness that can and should be treated. SAD is more common in northern countries, since the winter day gets shorter as one travels north. For instance, less than 2% of the general population in Florida report SAD while about 20% of Alaska’s population do. In Northern Europe, about 2% have severe SAD, with 10% reporting milder symptoms (the “winter blues”).

Symptoms may start in late September, lasting as late as April but peaking during the darkest months. Researchers have demonstrated that bright light can have a positive effect on brain chemistry, although the exact means by which SAD sufferers are affected is not yet clear.

Treatments may include counseling, anti-depressants, behavioral therapy that includes changes in exercise routine and other daily activities, and light therapy (the use of specially designed bright lights during your normal activities).

If you think you have SAD, don’t suffer the entire winter — call your healthcare professional for advice and treatment!

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