Daily Local News (West Chester, PA)

Seasonal affective disorder: dealing with winter blues

- By Dr. Alok Saharan Dr. Alok Saharan is a board certified psychiatri­st. He is on staff at Brandywine Hospital and is medical director of the Behavioral Health Pavilion.

As the days grow shorter, you may begin to feel sluggish and depressed. If so, you’re not alone — seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or the “Winter Blues,” affects nearly 10 million Americans. SAD is depression that follows a seasonal pattern, typically getting worse in the fall and winter months and remitting when the weather brightens. It’s common to have a seasonal component to depression. As daylight hours shorten, feelings of sadness present. Some may feel blue after fun festivitie­s; stress from the holidays or from rememberin­g lost loved ones.

SAD has been recognized as far back as the 1700s, but research didn’t really being until the 1980s. Seasonal Affective Disorder is depression that follows a regular seasonal pattern, generally related to the change of daylight hours (less in the fall/ winter, more in the summer/ spring). Despite what many people think, you can have seasonal affective disorder that occurs in the spring/ summer. Symptoms for the two differ: For those suffering during the fall/winter months, symptoms tend to include fatigue, weight gain, oversleepi­ng, craving carbo- hydrates, a heavy feeling in the arms and lefts, trouble getting along with others, and hypersensi­tivity to rejection. Meanwhile, in the spring/summer, symptoms may include anxiety or agitation, insomnia, irritabili­ty, decreased appetite and weight loss.

The main factor for Seasonal Affective Disorder is that you have depression. Even if you only feel the effects seasonally, SAD is depression, just with a seasonal component. Eighty percent of people with SAD are diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, while the other 20 percent is diagnosed with Bipolar Affec- tive Disorder. Other risk factors include gender (woman are more often affected, but men have more severe symptoms), age (most people are first diagnosed in their late 20s to early 30s), family history, and distance from the equator, among others.

Some people may think there’s no point in seeking help if their depression only affects them seasonally. Won’t it go away on its own? Even if your depression follows a cyclical pattern, that is still four to five months of your life, virtually every year, that you’re suffering from impairment. Don’t brush it off as something you need to cope with on your own – Seasonal Affective Disorder is treatable with medication, light therapy, cognitive therapy or a combinatio­n of treatments.

Talk with your physician about whether or not you have depression, and if that depression may have a seasonal component. In the meantime, try these tips to help relieve your symptoms:

• Get outside – even if it’s cold out, grab your winter coat and take a walk or just relax on a bench on a sunny day at lunch.

• Exercise regularly

• Socialize

• Take care of yourself; don’t use alcohol or drugs for relief

• Don’t miss doctors’ appointmen­ts; there could be other medical issues occurring, such as a change in your thyroid levels

• Practice stress management

• Take a trip to a warm location

You don’t have to suffer through the winter blues alone. If you’ve had feelings of depression for two weeks or more, talk with your physician.

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