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Cause of winter doldrums could be seasonal affective disorder

Have you ever felt that you are “in a funk,” or “down in the dumps,” during the winter months?

Some people experience depression during stress, and others may experience symptoms regularly at certain times of the year. Seasonal affective disorder, also known as depressive disorder with seasonal pattern, is characterized by recurrent episodes of depression, with symptoms typically beginning in late fall or early winter and lasting until spring. Less common are recurrent summer episodes in which symptoms begin in late spring or early summer and last until winter.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, symptoms of winter-onset depression may include oversleeping, daytime fatigue, carbohydrate craving and weight gain. Additionally, many people experience other symptoms of depression, including decreased sexual interest, lethargy, feelings of hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, lack of interest in normal activities and decreased socialization. Those who experience summer-onset depression are likely to experience insomnia, decreased appetite, weight loss, and agitation or anxiety.

An effective treatment for SAD is exposure to sunlight or artificial light that is like sunlight, according to the Mayo Clinic. If your health care provider suggests light therapy, a light box with fluorescent bulbs that artificially simulate sunlight can be tried. Light visors that can be worn on the head like a cap are also available. Light therapy takes about 30 to 90 minutes each day, often divided into more than one session.

Depending on the severity of symptoms, your physician may also suggest antidepressant medication or seeing a mental health provider.

SAD is a potentially lifelong condition that occurs every year around the same time. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is important to control symptoms. Find ways to relax, eat a healthy diet, limit caffeine, get enough sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs.

Find support by talking with family and friends. If there is a support group available, consider attending.

Finally, if your symptoms seem to increase, contact your health care provider.

For additional information, call or visit the Maino Community Health Library in Modesto, (209) 523-0732. You can also contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness at (800) 950-6264.

Suzanne Pickens is a health information consultant at the Community Health Education Department at Sutter Gould Medical Foundation.

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