The cold winter months can bring about a feeling of listlessness. No matter what one does, they can't seem to break out of their "funk." This is the point where winter blues can become seasonal affective disorder (SAD) which effects 6.7 percent of Americans.
Knowing the Symptoms of SAD
SAD is characterized by symptoms of depression occuring during the same time period every year. The symptoms most commonly start in the fall, when the days become shorter, continuing on through the winter. Occasionally, people also experience SAD (also referred to as seasonal depression) during the spring and early summer.
Symptoms of SAD vary widely from person to person, but generally involve feelings of depression, low energy and social withdrawal. The main indicators for SAD are changes in appetite, sleep patterns and sex drive. Finally, cognitive and emotional difficulties are often associated with SAD.
What Causes SAD?
Although the specific causes of SAD are still unknown, it's widely considered to be connected to changes in brain chemistry associated with disruption of the body's internal biological clock. Seasonal changes in the amount of sunlight exposure affects this circadian rhythm by altering the levels of two neurotransmitters in the brain called serotonin and melatonin. People who live at extreme latitudes seem to have a higher incidence of SAD.
A milder form of SAD, called subsyndromal seasonal affective disorder (SSAD), affects an estimated 14.3 percent of the U.S. population. The glum emotions experienced by people effected by SAD and SSAD can often be lessened through exercise and outdoor activity, especially on sunny days. Connections between human emotions and the seasons have been well documented, even if a person is completely healthy. Some researchers believe genetics play a part and mutation of a gene that expresses menanopsin has been found to have some connection to SAD.
Treatment for SAD and SSAD
There are a number of treatments for classic SAD including light therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, medication and administration of ionized air and carefully timed melatonin supplementation. Light therapy consists of a light box which gives off a combination of bright white, blue and green light at specific wavelengths to suppress melatonin in patients with SAD. Recently Northern Sweden's Umea Energi company installed these special lights in 30 bus stops to help combat episodes of SAD in the town of Umea, which only receives a few hours of sunlight daily during winter months.
Another effective therapy is dawn simulation, which evoked an 83 percent better response than other bright light therapy. Negative air ionization involves the release of charged particles into a patient's sleep environment and has been found to provide 47.9 percent improvement in symptoms. Some effective antidepressants are paroetine, sertraline and fluoxetine, along with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants, available through a physician after further evaluation.
While more research is needed, one thing seems fairly clear; when suffering the winter doldrums, there appears to be no more effective remedy than mild exercise, fresh air and sunshine. So, get off the couch and enjoy all the positive things that nature has to offer! Have a great day!
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