Brighten Your Days: Don’t Be SAD

By Marla Chalnick, Ph.D., LPCsad-winter-depression

Winter means different things to different people. Aside from having to deal with ice, I look forward to the crisp temperatures with great anticipation.  Others may see winter as just the inconvenient interlude between summers. For many people, winter can be down right depressing. They may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD); a condition that is similar to depression, except it appears only in the winter months.

SAD affects roughly 6% of the adult population of the United States. Women are more affected by SAD, but there are cases of men and children who experience it as well.  SAD can begin as early as September and last until April. The most difficult months are December, January and February because SAD is directly related to the amount of light that is absorbed through the eyes.

The symptoms of SAD occur regularly each winter and may include a number of the following: sleep problems (too much or too little), lethargy (feeling fatigued and unable to carry out daily tasks), difficulty concentrating, overeating (craving carbohydrates and sweet foods), depression, anxiety, and withdrawal from friends and family. In children, symptoms include irritability, difficulty getting out of bed and school problems in the fall and winter.

Dr. Norman Rosenthal, clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University, helped discover the disorder and its treatment in the 1980’s. Dr. Rosenthal described his arrival in the United States from South Africa to complete his residency in psychiatry.

“I was born and raised in South Africa where the geographical climate is very, very pleasant, the seasons blend into one another. And then I came to New York City. I arrived in the summer, and the days were wonderfully long and I was full of energy and enthusiasm.

But then as the days got shorter, something began to happen to me, especially after the daylight savings time change occurred. Suddenly, I felt myself slowed down, less able to carry through on all the projects I picked up during the summer, reluctant to get out of bed and get going in the morning. I sort of soldiered on through the winter until the spring, when it all seemed to get better.”

Light therapy has proven to be an effective therapy in up to 85 per cent of cases of SAD. It consists of using a light box with high intensity florescent lights. Treatment consists of daily half hour to two-hour sessions of sitting in front of the light box, where you can read, eat or do other daily activities. While light therapy is generally the first line of defense, antidepressant medication maybe helpful.  Counseling or any other complementary therapy that teaches relaxation, stress management, adaptation and coping skills can also be useful.

And, if you are very fortunate, take a winter vacation to a warm, sunny place. Spending a week or two in the warm sunshine will have lasting benefits when you return to your winter climate. It’s like “recharging” your batteries. I’ve always wanted to go to Bermuda, how about you?

Winter means different things to different people. Aside from having to deal with ice, I look forward to the crisp temperatures with great anticipation.  Others may see winter as just the inconvenient interlude between summers. For many people, winter can be down right depressing. They may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD); a condition that is similar to depression, except it appears only in the winter months.

SAD affects roughly 6% of the adult population of the United States. Women are more affected by SAD, but there are cases of men and children who experience it as well.  SAD can begin as early as September and last until April. The most difficult months are December, January and February because SAD is directly related to the amount of light that is absorbed through the eyes.

The symptoms of SAD occur regularly each winter and may include a number of the following: sleep problems (too much or too little), lethargy (feeling fatigued and unable to carry out daily tasks), difficulty concentrating, overeating (craving carbohydrates and sweet foods), depression, anxiety, and withdrawal from friends and family. In children, symptoms include irritability, difficulty getting out of bed and school problems in the fall and winter.

Dr. Norman Rosenthal, clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University, helped discover the disorder and its treatment in the 1980’s. Dr. Rosenthal described his arrival in the United States from South Africa to complete his residency in psychiatry.

“I was born and raised in South Africa where the geographical climate is very, very pleasant, the seasons blend into one another. And then I came to New York City. I arrived in the summer, and the days were wonderfully long and I was full of energy and enthusiasm.

But then as the days got shorter, something began to happen to me, especially after the daylight savings time change occurred. Suddenly, I felt myself slowed down, less able to carry through on all the projects I picked up during the summer, reluctant to get out of bed and get going in the morning. I sort of soldiered on through the winter until the spring, when it all seemed to get better.”

Light therapy has proven to be an effective therapy in up to 85 per cent of cases of SAD. It consists of using a light box with high intensity florescent lights. Treatment consists of daily half hour to two-hour sessions of sitting in front of the light box, where you can read, eat or do other daily activities. While light therapy is generally the first line of defense, antidepressant medication maybe helpful.  Counseling or any other complementary therapy that teaches relaxation, stress management, adaptation and coping skills can also be useful.

And, if you are very fortunate, take a winter vacation to a warm, sunny place. Spending a week or two in the warm sunshine will have lasting benefits when you return to your winter climate. It’s like “recharging” your batteries. I’ve always wanted to go to Bermuda, how about you


 

 

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