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Are You SAD?
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Depression affects about 15 to 20 million Americans a year. The colder, shorter days of winter trigger seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a state of depression that lasts for weeks. In many cases, cabin fever usually hits after the holiday season in January or maybe February. Symptoms of depression include fatigue, insomnia, reduced energy levels, lack of motivation, pessimism, low self-esteem, inability to concentrate and cope, forgetfulness, and withdrawal.

Anxiety and depression are often associated with unhealthful dietary practices, such as overeating, and a lack of energy to exercise. Hence, people with SAD often add pounds during the winter. Overeating should be avoided since it can also make for a morbid disposition. SAD patients also tend to eat more carbs in the winter. Chocolates and sweets and carbohydrate-rich meals may give the perception of quick energy. An excessive use of simple carbs may pump insulin levels high and push fat production into overdrive.

Regular aerobic exercise has a beneficial effect on mental outlook with the release of brain endorphins. Outdoor exercise such as brisk walking has a significant anti-depressant effect on the mind, and helps prevent winter weight gain. Finding a friend to be an exercise partner can be a valuable support in efforts to maintain the exercise program.

In the fight against depression, getting adequate, good quality sleep, avoiding fatigue, and appropriately managing stress are all important strategies. Massage can be a valuable aid to relieve stress and lift the spirits. The best therapy for SAD is daily light box therapy. Enhancing light levels in the home and workplace may also help people better cope with winter blues. Trimming hedges around the windows or low-lying branches of trees near the house may help to increase indoor light levels. Other suggestions include listening to your favorite music, watching a comedy, and reflecting upon the blessings you have received over the past year.

Depressed people tend to have less contact with friends and relatives. High levels of social support can decrease the effects of depression. A University of Illinois study found that the happiest students with the fewest signs of depression had the strongest ties to friends and family and were committed to spending time with them.

The pleasant aroma of the oil derived from French rose (Rosa gallica) is believed to have anti-depressant activity. A number of clinical trials have also revealed that St John’s Wort is a safe and effective herbal treatment for mild to moderate depression and anxiety. For effectiveness, the herb must be taken for at least one to two months. In contrast to prescription antidepressants, such as Prozac and Zoloft, St John’s Wort produces no side effects when taken in recommended dosage levels.
 
During the winter it may be difficult to get certain tasks completed due to low energy levels. During this time it is important to reduce one’s stress and making too many commitments. Having the support and friendship of others with similar mood disorders may be beneficial since they can share devices and strategies that they have found helpful.

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By Winston J. Craig, R.D. Copyright © 2010 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

Winter Blues: Seasonal Affective Disorder: What It Is and How to Overcome It, by Norman E. Rosenthal


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