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Winter Moods
by Kimberly Bailey

  Related Resources
• Bah, Humbug!
• Recognizing Depression
• Warnings of Depression
 From Other Guides
• It's That Time of Year Again
• Light on Winter Darkness
• SAD: Real and Treatable
• Seasonal Affective Disorder
 
Elsewhere on the Web
• Q&A: Light Therapy
• Seasonal Affective Disorder
 
 
The days have shortened. The nights lengthened. The weather is brisk on a warm day. Sweaters and turtlenecks abound. Beautiful blankets of snow cover the ground and aaAAARRRGGHHHH!! I want to scream!

Winter Blues ... Cabin Fever ... Winter Doldrums ... Holiday Depression

Many catchy phrases are used to describe this all too common syndrome. Call it what you will, but the fact is, many people suffer with depression in varying degrees during this time of year. As a matter of fact, the clinical name for this is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Description

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression (some consider it a subcategory of major depression) characterized by a pattern of onset and remission linked to the change of seasons. The most common pattern is that of winter depression in which onset occurs in the fall and remits in the spring. However, some individuals experience onset of symptoms in the spring.

Symptoms

  • Low energy
  • Difficulty getting up in the morning
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Loss of Productivity
  • Weight gain
  • Craving for carbohydrates and sugar
  • Depression
  • Mood Swings
  • Irritability

Cause

There is still a great deal of research that needs to be done in this area. However, the bulk of literature on this topic agrees that there is a distinct link to day light. The symptoms of SAD increase as the days shorten and the number of hours of daylight decrease. The neurotransmitter, Serotonin, has been implicated in that light passing through the eyes stimulates the release of Serotonin. Low levels of Serotonin are often found in those with depressive symptoms. An increase in levels of Melatonin may also contribute or cause this disorder. In converse to Serotonin, light suppresses Melatonin release. Melatonin is a hormone believed to help regulate body temperature and sleep cycles. Elevated levels, therefore, may cause the symptoms associated with this disorder.

Treatment

The first-line of treatment for SAD is light therapy or phototherapy. Light therapy involves exposure to bright light one or two times a day for sessions ranging from 10 - 45 minutes. Many people have remission of symptoms within as little as a week. Antidepressant medications may be prescribed in conjunction with or in place of light therapy. Exercise is also encouraged along with limiting carbohydrates, sugar and caffeine.


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