The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Health & Fitness

January 10, 2014

Dealing with seasonal affective disorder is serious

Do you feel depressed during the winter months? You shouldn’t dismiss that annual feeling as a case of the “winter blues” or a seasonal funk that you have to deal with on your own. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that happens at the same time every year. It’s caused by a reduced amount of sunlight that affects the natural chemicals in your body that determine mood and energy.

In order to be diagnosed with SAD, you should experience symptoms at the same time of the year for at least two consecutive years. Symptoms usually start in the fall and continue through the winter months and can include:

* Depression

* Anxiety

* Hopelessness

* Lack of energy

* Social withdrawal

* Change in sleeping patterns

* Appetite changes

Rather than moving south to the equator, where sunlight is always plentiful, the most common ways to treat SAD are:

1. Medication. Certain medications can help with SAD, especially if the symptoms are severe. Your health care provider may recommend you begin taking antidepressants before your symptoms typically begin and for a period of time after the winter season ends. You may have to try several different medications before finding the one that helps you best with the least amount of side effects.

2. Psychotherapy. Psychotherapy is another option for anyone with SAD. Speaking with a professional counselor can help you identify problems and provide solutions. You can learn healthy ways to cope with SAD and manage stress in your life.

3. Light therapy. Also called phototherapy, light therapy is a treatment for SAD. Special light therapy boxes are used to expose your body to the light it requires. These broad-spectrum lights mimic outdoor light and affect the brain chemicals associated with mood.

4. Alternative therapies. Alternative therapies such as acupuncture, yoga, meditation and massage may also help alleviate some of the symptoms of SAD, especially when used in conjunction with other treatments.

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