Saturday, November 25

A way to get rid of the winter blues?

Seasonal affective disorder can be treated and managed with the use of light therapy and medicines.

The winter season brings chilly days and cozy vibes, but for some, it also ushers in a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a form of depression that kicks in during late fall and winter, easing off with the arrival of spring. While the exact cause remains a mystery, researchers believe a lack of sunlight plays a pivotal role.

Dr. Richard Schwartz, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital, emphasizes the significance of recognizing SAD as a serious condition. He notes, "People should not ignore the signs of SAD and should seek treatment if they appear, as left alone, SAD can escalate to serious health issues."

Sunlight and Your Mood

Sunlight exposure has a profound impact on our brains. It stimulates the hypothalamus, a brain region housing our internal sleep-wake clock. Insufficient light disrupts this clock, leading to an overproduction of the sleep hormone melatonin and a decrease in serotonin, the feel-good brain chemical. This chemical imbalance can result in feelings of low energy, lethargy, and depression.

SAD comes with other telltale signs, including diminished sexual desire, an inclination to overeat (especially comfort foods), and sleep disturbances. It also correlates with cognitive challenges like difficulties in concentration and memory. Dr. Schwartz adds, "As you become more lethargic from SAD, you are also less likely to exercise or socialize."

Several factors heighten the risk of SAD, such as a family history of SAD or depression and geographic location. People residing in northern states, where daylight diminishes significantly in fall and winter, are more prone to SAD than those in the south.

Tackling SAD: Light Therapy and Medication

The primary treatments for SAD are light therapy and antidepressant medications, often used in combination for maximum effectiveness.

Common medications for SAD include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like fluoxetine (Prozac) or sertraline (Zoloft) and a different type of antidepressant known as bupropion (Wellbutrin).

Bright light therapy involves using light boxes that emit 10,000 lux, approximately 100 times brighter than regular indoor lighting. Dr. Schwartz recommends checking out reputable sources like the Center for Environmental Therapeutics when purchasing a light box. To use it, sit about a foot away for around 30 minutes each morning, keeping your eyes open but avoiding direct gaze at the light.

"Try to get in some light before 10 a.m., especially if you often feel SAD symptoms by midday," suggests Dr. Schwartz. As daylight increases during spring and summer, you may find you need light therapy less often or not at all.

Light therapy is generally safe, but it may cause minor, temporary side effects like headaches and irritability. If you have eye conditions or sun-sensitive skin, consult your doctor before starting light therapy.

No light box? Basking in front of a sunlit window or taking an early morning walk can offer similar benefits. Dr. Schwartz emphasizes the importance of combating light deprivation in winter, stating, Make sure you take steps to get the light your body and brain need.



1 comment

  1. These are great tips for combating seasonal blues.

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