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Step Into the Light: Tips on Dealing With Seasonal Affective Disorder

Winter depression can affect people in varying degrees of severity. Many of us complain about the cold-weather blahs, but for some, winter can bring a near-suffocating amount of dread that goes beyond a mild case of cabin fever. An estimated four to six percent of the population suffers from seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, and it can cause serious and debilitating depression. Whether you feel slightly pulled down by winter or completely floored by it, there are several ways to minimize the blues while you await the warmth of spring. Understanding why winter can sometimes make us sad is step one.

A down feeling from the darkness

Health experts connect SAD with winter’s reduced natural light. Every December, the winter solstice ushers in the season with the shortest day of sunlight. Days eventually become brighter, but the slow slog through winter months brings us many dark mornings and afternoons that can pummel us with dreariness. Several studies suggest that exposure to light increases serotonin—a hormone that makes you happy—so the increased darkness can sap us of our joy.

Beyond a depressed feeling, SAD brings a host of potential physical problems, such as weight gain, oversleeping, and fatigue. It can also cause behavioral issues such as irritability, avoidance of social situations, and for some, an increased risk for addiction. This is because serotonin is closely related to substance abuse and addictive behaviors. If someone has trouble dealing with a lack of light, they may turn to alcohol or drugs.

Tips to chip away at winter gloom

To fight SAD, you need to bring more light in your life. Try participating in winter sports and outdoor activities so that you can get exposed to sunlight. It may be cold, but skiing, skating, and even walking or running can be fun winter activities. If you can, plan a midwinter trip to a warmer climate, and you may learn why winter depression cases diminish the closer you get to the equator.

If you cannot escape winter weather, and it’s too unbearably cold outside for activities, consider artificial light therapy, which has been shown to reduce SAD. Light therapy lamps (or “boxes”) have grown in popularity and have been shown to treat SAD and other forms of depression. Other SAD-fighting indoor activities include exercising to release endorphins, taking vitamin D supplements, and just going with the flow and enjoying your hibernation. If you can accept that you aren’t going to be able to go out, then you might enjoy curling up with a good book and taking a break.

Sun-based happiness is part of nature

And speaking of hibernation, researcher believe SAD is related to the need in the wild to slow down during the winter. For animals, the winter is a harsh time where food is scarce, so they need to go into low-power mode. Scientists have studied animal behavior to see if they can be susceptible to the winter blahs, too. Ohio State University researchers set out to gauge the effect of reduced light exposure on hamsters. The tests showed that when light was reduced for these animals, they responded with anxiety, such as nervousness and depression. Signs of depression in hamsters include refusing sugar water treats and giving up on certain tasks, such as swimming.

If winter has you feeling down, try to take advantage of daylight when you can and seek other healthy ways to add joy to your life. Remember, too, that although the cold dreary days of winter seem never-ending, spring is just around the corner.

About the Author

Kimberly Hayes created as her medium to share her writings and upcoming book info about addicts seeking alternative addiction treatments. Her mission is to help addicts achieve recovery wellness.

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