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For some, winter is more than just a season characterized by shorter, colder days; it is a time of year that brings on the “winter blues,” Jill U. Adams reports for The Washington Post.
Officially, it’s called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, and is a type of depression. It begins during the late fall or winter of each year and disappears with the onset of spring. Common symptoms include: tiredness,even though the person is getting enough sleep; a loss of interest in usual activities; feeling sad, grumpy, moody or anxious; craving carbohydrates, eating more and gaining weight; and trouble concentrating, according to WebMD. Some even have suicidal thoughts.
SAD occurs in 1 to 2 percent of the population, with a milder version, “the winter blahs,” occurring in 10 to 15 percent, Raymond Lam, a psychiatrist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, told the Post.
Therapy with light is the most common treatment for SAD and has proven effective, although many doctors and insurance companies still don’t recognize it as effective. The disorder is also treated with medications and talk therapy, Adams notes.
Light therapy involves sitting near a very bright, broad-spectrum light for at least 30 minutes every morning, Adams reports. WebMd cautions that the fluorescent lights used in light therapy are not the same as ultraviolet lights, full-spectrum lights, tanning lamps and heat lamps, all of which should not be used for this purpose.
Experts are still trying to figure out exactly why light therapy works, but some evidence suggests that not getting enough light is the main trigger for SAD, which is more common in areas where the daylight hours are shorter, Teodor Postolache, a psychiatrist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, told the Post.
Another study found that healthy people’s eyes are more sensitive to light in the wintertime, while those with SAD have less sensitivity, University of Pittsburgh psychologist Kathryn Roecklein told Adams.
Experts told Adams that it is important that SAD not be self-diagnosed and that light therapy not be experimented with. They said a person may have health conditions that mimic these same symptoms or have untreated or under-treated depression that is not seasonally influenced, and some people take medications or have conditions that make them more sensitive to light.
“If your symptoms are severe enough to interfere with daily functioning, get an assessment at a mental health clinic or by a doctor,” Lam told Adams. “There are many causes and lots of treatments.”
Paul Hokemeyer, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Manhattan, offered nutritional suggestions to help those with SAD in an article for Fox News.
He suggests that people with SAD eat foods that will increase their serotonin levels: those high in Omega-3 fatty acids and tryptophan, which he says is “linked to mood regulation, and a deficit leads to depression.” Some foods high in Omega-3 are trout, salmon, and walnuts; those high in tryptophan include lean turkey, chicken, milk, eggs, nuts and bananas.
Hokemeyer also suggests that those with SAD supplement their diet with foods rich in vitamin D because studies have found a correlation between depression and low levels of vitamin D. Foods high in vitamin D are egg yolks, fortified dairy products and cereal, beef liver and cod fish oil.
And finally, he suggests those with SAD eat whole, unprocessed foods to decrease mood swings caused by the “spikes and crashes” in blood sugar levels commonly associated with eating processed foods that are high in simple sugars and white flour.