Avert­ing the win­ter blues

The end of day­light sav­ing time can mark the start of sea­sonal de­pres­sion. Here’s how to head it off.

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - REAL ESTATE - By Cindy Dampier

Sea­sonal af­fec­tive dis­or­der, and the slightly less de­bil­i­tat­ing ver­sion, which psy­chol­o­gists call win­ter blues, are forms of de­pres­sion that are tied to the win­ter sea­son. An es­ti­mated 10 mil­lion Amer­i­cans strug­gle with full-blown SAD, and an ad­di­tional 10% to 20% are be­lieved to suf­fer from less se­vere win­ter mood changes. Women are af­fected more of­ten than men. The symp­toms mir­ror those of any de­pres­sion, but they show up year after year as the sea­son shifts to­ward win­ter.

But will the first snow­fall trig­ger the onset of those symp­toms? Maybe, but an­other event — the an­nual end of day­light sav­ing time — could have a big­ger im­pact. “Snow­fall presents an in­ter­est­ing sit­u­a­tion,” says Ge­orge­town Univer­sity pro­fes­sor of psy­chi­a­try Nor­man Rosen­thal, “be­cause it is some­times ac­com­pa­nied by very cold weather, which keeps peo­ple in­doors. But if peo­ple get out into the snow and walk about, you can get a daz­zling amount of light re­flect­ing off the snow. And the com­bi­na­tion of light and ex­er­cise is a very good com­bi­na­tion for peo­ple with SAD.”

Re­search strongly sug­gests that it is the light, not the cold, that is the key to sea­sonal de­pres­sion. Light ther­apy has been pre­scribed for SAD pa­tients for years, and a 2018 study from Brown Univer­sity neu­ro­sci­en­tists found ev­i­dence of a path­way in the brain link­ing pho­to­sen­si­tive cells in the retina with ar­eas of the brain that con­trol mood. “Peo­ple need to un­der­stand the key im­por­tance of a lack of light,” says Rosen­thal, who has au­thored “Win­ter Blues” a guide­book for treat­ing sea­sonal de­pres­sion.

Win­ter’s shorter days al­ready de­prive the brain of light, but the end of day­light sav­ing time can com­pound that ef­fect for peo­ple al­ready be­gin­ning to feel the onset of SAD, Rosen­thal says. “When the clocks turn back, that’s sup­posed to give you an ex­tra hour of light in the morn­ing. But peo­ple with sea­sonal af­fec­tive dis­or­der typ­i­cally have a hard time get­ting up in the morn­ing. So light is be­ing given back to them when they have the com­forter over their heads, and then it gets dark in the af­ter­noon, when peo­ple with SAD are most likely more ac­tive.”

That’s why ex­perts like Kelly Ro­han, a pro­fes­sor and re­searcher at the Univer­sity of Ver­mont, have iden­ti­fied the end of day­light sav­ing time as the mo­ment for SAD pa­tients to start im­ple­ment­ing strate­gies to beat their de­pres­sion.

Ro­han’s re­search, which has fo­cused on light ther­apy and cog­ni­tive be­hav­ioral ther­apy ap­proaches to treat­ing SAD, has shown that a cog­ni­tive ap­proach can be as ef­fec­tive as light ther­apy and may have longer-last­ing ben­e­fits.

Cog­ni­tive be­hav­ioral ther­apy for SAD in­volves de­vel­op­ing two sets of skills: proac­tive be­hav­iors to coun­ter­act the ten­dency to hi­ber­nate, and think­ing skills to rec­og­nize and coun­ter­act de­pressed thought pat­terns. “Know­ing about the ill­ness and know­ing about how to do things that make a dif­fer­ence can be very im­pact­ful,” says Rosen­thal. “What Dr. Ro­han has done is to sys­tem­atize a way of telling peo­ple how to deal with win­ter de­pres­sion.”

Part of the treat­ment, Rosen­thal says, is plan­ning ahead for win­ter. “Come up with a fun ac­tiv­ity for ev­ery day,” he says. “Peo­ple with SAD tend to be hi­ber­na­tors, they want to curl up, they don’t see peo­ple. That can be­come a neg­a­tive spi­ral.” He sug­gests alert­ing friends and fam­ily to your ten­dency to hide dur­ing the win­ter, and ask that they help you by reach­ing out to make plans. “Get out­side when­ever you can,” he says. “Find a buddy, and make a pact to keep each other ac­tive.”

Get­ting out­side helps pro­vide the light your brain needs to reg­u­late mood. But Rosen­thal is also a be­liever in light ther­apy, if done cor­rectly.

“Just go­ing out and walk­ing in a bright, snowy morn­ing is go­ing to help you,” he says, but sup­ple­ment­ing with a ther­a­peu­tic light box is ben­e­fi­cial as well.

“There are a lot of light boxes avail­able on­line,” he says, “and some of them are very ben­e­fi­cial. I think a nice,

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