By Jean Pfefferkorn
If you feel your mood slipping towards the blue end of the spectrum at this time of year, you are in good company. Many of us feel blue during times of holiday stress, when expectations are high, money perhaps scarce, and too much activity is on everyone’s plates.
If your blue mood continues into the new year, or if it began in November, you may be one of millions who is dealing with SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder–a recurrent depression which coincides with the lack of sunlight in the winter months (tomorrow is the shortest day of the year). Usually mild to moderate, the SAD-ness can affect people of any age, from children to elders.
Symptoms include the “bearish” behavior that many feel to a lesser extent: increased appetite–with attendant weight gain, increased need for sleep, lack of energy, and social withdrawal. Additionally, more alarming symptoms may include hopelessness, unhappiness and irritability, lack of interest in normal activities, and suicidal thoughts.
Researchers believe that the cause for SAD is a neurochemical imbalance in the brain. It has been postulated that an overproduction of melatonin, a hormone produced by the brain during hours of darkness, is to blame.
Managing the symptoms at home may involve simple strategies, such as exercising, eating healthily, spending time with family and friends, and maintaining a regular sleep schedule. Monitor yourself for early signs that the depression may be getting worse, and if it does, contact your primary care doctor.
Primary care doctors are able to treat SAD with light therapy using a 10,000 lux (light intensity) light box, which may be purchased without a prescription. Its use should be monitored by a medical professional to watch for side effects. Treatment is often an early morning light bath for thirty minutes. Other treatments may involve anti-depressant medications or a combination of light and medication.
If you know others who may be living with seasonal affective disorder, encouraging them to look for guidance can help them to enjoy the beautiful winter.