Friday, March 23, 2012

Seasonal affective disorder: How to beat the winter blues

This week marked the start of spring, which means longer sun-filled days, increasing temperatures and in many places, blooming flowers. But for half a million people living with seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, spring also brings relief from feelings of the “winter blues.”

Seasonal affective disorder consists of recurring episodes of depression that often begin in the fall and continue through winter, with symptoms subsiding in the spring and summer months. The disorder can cause depression in the spring or early summer, but that’s less common. Symptoms of the disorder can include:
  •   increased appetite and weight gain;
  • increased sleep and daytime sleepiness;
  •  less energy and ability to concentrate in the afternoon;
  •  loss of interest in work or other activities;
  • slow, sluggish, lethargic movement;
  • social withdrawal; and
  • unhappiness and irritability.

People who live in areas of reduced sunlight are at greater risk, and the disorder may begin in the teen years or early adulthood. Luckily, there are ways to treat seasonal affective disorder and to begin feeling better:
  • Get outside. Getting outside during daylight hours provides exposure to natural light, even if it is cloudy. 
  • Exercise. Take a walk, jog or bike ride.
  • Keep active socially. Spend time with others to avoid feeling down.
  •  Use light therapy. Special lights are made to mimic the rays of the sun and when used appropriately, may trick your body into thinking it is sunnier outside.
  •  Talk to your doctor.  Make an appointment to see if adding antidepressants may help reduce or eliminate symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.

With National Public Health Week just around the corner, now is a good time to focus on taking action on mental health issues such as seasonal affective disorder. On Friday, April 6, National Public Health Week ( will highlight mental and emotional well-being and the importance of detecting and treating mental health problems.

For more information on seasonal affective disorder, visit websites for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mental Health America or PubMed Health. For a fact sheet on mental and emotional well-being, visit the National Public Health Week website

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