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Seasonal Affective Disorder

It's been a long winter, and it could be depressing you.

Have you found yourself turning into some of the seven dwarfs lately, Dopey, Grumpy, Sleepy, Sneezy? Let’s face it, it’s been a tough winter, cold, dark, and we have had to shovel snow just about every week since Christmas. Who wouldn’t be irritable under these circumstance, or you may just be suffering from SAD, seasonal affective disorder.

      Seasonal affective disorder was first diagnosed in 1985 as a recognized medical problem. It is a depression that begins in the fall and lasts through the winter months sapping your energy and making you feel moody. SAD has sometimes been referred to as winter depression, winter blues, or the hibernation reaction.

      Seasonal affective disorder is four times more common in woman than in men. Typically it begins when a person is in their twenties but teachers have been seeing this in some children and adolescents lately.

      Classic symptoms of this syndrome include the following:

  •  Afternoon slumps with decreased energy and concentratio
  • Increased appetite craving more sweets and carbohydrate
  • Weight gain
  • Increased sleep and excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Lack of energy and loss of interest in work and other activities
  • Lethargy
  • Social withdrawal
  • Feelings of depression, irritability, suicidal thoughts
  • Difficulty concentrating and processing information

The causes of seasonal affective disorder are not known but thought to be linked to three factors, ambient light, body temperature, and hormonal regulation.

People who suffer from SAD are affected the most when the temperature falls and the days become shorter and darker. Researchers have found that bright lights will change the chemicals in the brain.

When a person has less exposure to sunlight there are lower levels of vitamin D in the blood which seems to contribute to SAD. Melatonin, which is a sleep and mood, related hormone is secreted in the pineal gland of the brain and has also been linked to SAD. This hormone, which has been linked to depression, is produced at increased levels in the dark.

So when the days are shorter and darker the production of this Melatonin increases. Serotonin, a brain chemical neurotransmitter that affects mood is also linked to SAD. When sunlight is reduced there is a drop in serotonin which can lead to depression.

As the days get shorter our circadian rhythm becomes disrupted leading to feelings of depression.

Over the years of studying SAD doctors have found three forms of treatment, light therapy, medications, and psychotherapy have helped.

Light therapy has been one of the most successful forms of treatment for SAD accomplished either naturally by exposing yourself to sunlight during the day or adding a supplemental high quality light therapy box.

Medications used in the past have included Wellbutrin, Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac and Effexor. These drugs sometimes in conjunction with psychotherapy have helped in the past.

The most affective changes you can do to combat SAD are simple changes. Make your environment sunnier and brighter. When working at home or in the office sit closer to bright windows and open the blinds and curtains letting in more sunlight.

Get outside and take a long walk. Even on cold days outdoor light can help ward off SAD

Exercise regularly because physical exercise helps relieves stress and anxiety both of which can increase SAD. The more physically fit you are the better you feel about yourself which can also lift your mood.

Foods can also affect your mood. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements have been found to relieve depression. Good sources of this include fatty cold water fish such as salmon, mackerel and herring. Flaxseed, flax oil and walnuts also contain omega-3 fatty acids along with soybean and canola oils.

 Massapequa has some of the best and close by which is a perfect place to get outside and walk and bike. I go to the beach quite often and always see a group of seniors who are at field six every day, even in the winter soaking up the sea air and the sunshine.

This eclectic group of well read retirees assemble daily to socialize, play cards, discuss current events, and take daily walks. I first met this lively group a year ago when I was a Bashful Doc. They have learned how to combat SAD by being in the fresh air every day and staying healthy. Through them I have learned how to be the seventh dwarf, Happy.

And here's some good news, I saw a robin the other day, Spring can’t be far behind. Now go out, bundle up and walk in the sunshine. It’s the best way to combat SAD.

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