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Winter Blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder? By Pam LaPorte

May 22, 2013

Now that the hustle and bustle of the holidays is over, do you find yourself feeling a little more down or “blue?”  If so, you are not alone.  After the anticipation and excitement of the holiday season comes to an end, many often feel a sense of let down and experience what is often referred to as the “winter blues.”

It is not uncommon, especially for those of us living in colder winter climates to feel sad after the holidays.  This feeling is often not a cause for concern.  It is normal to have some days when you feel down.  However, if this feeling persists, and you experience other symptoms such as hopelessness, anxiety, irritability, loss of energy, increased need for sleep, appetite change (especially craving foods high in carbohydrates), weight gain and withdrawal from social activities you may be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Symptoms of SAD usually begin in late fall or early winter.  In many, this is due to the reduced amount of sunlight in fall and winter which may disrupt the body’s internal clock that lets us know when we should sleep or be awake.  This decrease in exposure to sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin levels leading to depression.  Serotonin is a brain chemical that also affects mood.

Another factor to consider with SAD is a possible drop in melatonin levels.  Melatonin is a natural hormone that can affect sleep patterns and moods.

So, what are your options if you are experiencing these symptoms?  If your symptoms are severe, it is very important to report them to your physician.  Often, medication is necessary and has proven helpful in treating SAD.

Psychotherapy has also proven beneficial in treating the symptoms of SAD.  Talking to a professional who understands the changes in mood and behavior associated with SAD can help you identify and change thoughts and behaviors that may be making you feel worse.  You can also learn coping skills and ways of managing stress.

Light therapy has also proven helpful for some suffering from symptoms of SAD.  Light therapy boxes are used to simulate outdoor light and may help to cause a change in the brain chemicals mentioned above.  Many retailers sell light boxes, however, it is important to research these as the quality of these devices varies.

Other ideas include making your home/work environment as bright as possible.  Also, try and spend time outside in the direct sunlight – even a fifteen minute walk in the sun at lunchtime can be beneficial.  Speaking of walking, any type of physical activity and exercise helps to reduce the symptoms of SAD.

Lastly, remember to have fun and do things that you enjoy!  If you are able, the winter months are a great time to take a vacation – get away to a warm sunny climate!  If you can’t get away, then think about having a summer-themed party!

When you are feeling down, it can be difficult to be social, but try and make the effort to connect with people even if you don’t feel like it.  One of the most effective and powerful ways to relieve our own suffering is by reaching out to, and serving, others.

 

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