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Tuesday, December 10, 2019
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Seasonal Affective Disorder

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     Winter is a tough time of year for many folks.  The days are short, the sun keeps hiding from us behind gray skies and it's too cold to get out and play.

     For those who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.), the fall and winter months can be truly awful.
 
     What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?   Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) is characterized by the onset of depression during the winter months and is caused by the interruption of the body’s normal rhythms as the light/dark cycle negatively affects hormones in the brain which control the sleep/wake cycle.
 

     What are the symptoms? Symptoms of S.A.D. are the same as symptoms of depression with the exception that they are associated with the time of year. Symptoms may include sadness, sleep disturbances, anxiety, irritability, sudden weight loss or weight gain, crying or feelings of emptiness or hopelessness that last more than a couple of weeks and negatively affect the sufferer’s normal routine.

     What are the treatments? S.A.D. may be effectively treated with light therapy in which the patient sits in front of a full-spectrum light for a period of time, usually in the morning. In some cases, light therapy is enough to help re-set the body’s natural rhythms. However, nearly half of those with S.A.D. do not improve with light therapy alone. Antidepressant medication and psychotherapy can also reduce symptoms, either alone or in combination with light therapy. Some studies indicate that taking Melatonin under the guidance of a physician may help re-balance the body’s rhythms.

     What should caregivers know? Persons suffering from S.A.D. may not      understand what is bothering them and may act like a different person in the dark months than in the months when the days are longerYou can help your loved-one by getting him or her to a professional to be screened for more serious problems such as clinical depression or generalized anxiety disorder. In addition, encourage him or her to get outside during the day if even for a few minutes to help re-set the healthy normal sleeping and waking rhythms. Also encourage him or her to get plenty of exercise, avoid caffeine late in the day and keep to a regular sleep schedule.

     What if I believe my loved one is in crisis? Call your loved one’s doctor if his or her symptoms worsen or do not begin to improve after two or three weeks. Get your loved one to a health care professional if he or she is attempting to self-treat with alcohol or is using prescription drugs inappropriately in an attempt to alleviate symptoms. Call 911 if your loved has thoughts of harming himself or someone else.    


Here are a few tips for dealing with the winter blues and what you should do if it is more than just a little cabin fever.

 

1.      Have a plan.  Don’t let the gray days of winter take you by surprise.  Plan to stay busy and engaged in life and activities you enjoy.  Plan a winter project to do with your spouse and grand kids.

 

2.      Get plenty of rest.  Part of the reason for winter blues is that our internal clocks become confused.  Have a regular bedtime and get up at a regular time.  Your body thrives on routine. 

 

3.      But, don’t sleep in!  It’s tempting to sleep in on dark, cold winter mornings.  But, you’ll only succeed at confusing your internal clock and may end up with a headache.  Get up and get busy.

 

4.      Exercise.  Sitting around and watching TV because it’s gray outside will bring on brain fog.  If your health will allow, get out and walk every day.  A before dinner walk is ideal.  Be sure to wear reflective clothing or carry a flashlight if it is dusk.  If you can’t exercise outside, join the Y or a fitness center or just dance around in your living room.  The point is to keep moving.

 

5.      Stay engaged.  Don’t try to hibernate.  Get out with friends and family.  Entertain.  Make sure your calendar is as full as you want it to be.

 

6.      Practice good health habits.  Eat healthy, fresh, whole foods.  Drink lots of water.  Stay away from excessive use of alcohol, caffeine and sugar. 

 

   7.      Get as much sunlight as possible.  On sunny winter days, sit near a window or go outside for a walk.  If you are home during the day, open the curtains and blinds to let in as much natural light as possible throughout the day. If you work in an office under artificial light, try to get outside for a few minutes on your lunch hour.

8.      If you have two or more S.A.D. symptoms for more than a couple of weeks, you may be dealing with more than cabin fever.  In that case, seek help if the symptoms become unmanageable.  



  Resource: National Institute of Mental Health

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