Winter – even a winter without much snow – can seem eternally long after the new year. For some people, the winter ‘doldrums’ are something more intense. SAD—or Seasonal Affective Disorder, is the term used to describe a particular type of melancholy or depression most often associated with the winter months. Have you been feeling sad lately? If could be seasonal depression.
Storm Clouds and Gray Skies-- What Causes Seasonal Depression?
Those who live in areas where winter nights are long are most at risk for developing SAD. An early setting sun can throw off the body’s natural rhythm and result in brain changes that affect mood.
Sunshine/light deprivation has also been known to decrease serotonin levels in the body. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, appetite and sleep, can contribute to depression if levels are reduced or altered.
Symptoms of SAD typically build slowly during the winter months and can include:
Let There Be Light! -- Treating SAD
While there is no test to determine whether your sad feelings are due to SAD, the same methods used to treat other forms of depression can be effective in treating this seasonal disorder.
If your SAD systems are severe, steps that may include counseling and/or medication should be explored with your physician to determine whether they are appropriate steps.
But if you have a mild case of the blues, the following techniques may help you emerge from the big chill of the cold weather months.
Light therapy does come with the risk of side-effects, more commonly eye-strain, headache, increased sensitivity to light and psoriasis. Less common side effects include mania and the possible onset of other psychological disorders such as bi-polar disorder. For these reasons, you should explore light therapy only under the instruction of your physician.
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