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Winter blues lead to SADness

By Mitchell Walbridge

Fri, Feb 7th, 2014
Posted in All Health & Wellness

By this point of the winter season, Minnesotans are usually getting pretty tired of what seems like endless inches of snowfall, the bitterly cold temperatures, blizzard-like winds, windchill warnings, winter weather advisories, and back-breaking shovelfuls of snow. It would come to surprise that parents’ patience are running pretty thin with their children staying home on the numerous snow days recently.

What I’ve described above is a pretty common depiction of winter in the state of Minnesota. Though some may argue that this winter has been an “exceptional” one, and in some cases it has been with some unusually frigid cold spells.

However, there’s a different commonality that winter brings that is often overlooked. It’s a condition that has been coined “Seasonal Affective Disorder”, or SAD. And that’s just how many who have the disorder feel more or less... sad. If you’ve been feeling blue lately and have just passed it off as what’s referred to as ‘Cabin Fever’, you may want to reconsider.

According to staff at the Mayo Clinic, Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of depression that usually arrives the same time every year, arriving in the late fall and progressing through the winter months (though in less common cases, some develop symptoms in the spring and summer months).

Having a down day occasionally is normal, but when one frequently encounters one or more of the following symptoms, seeking medical attention isn’t a bad idea: depression, hopelessness, anxiety, loss of energy, heavy feelings in the arms or legs, social withdrawal, oversleeping, loss of interest in activities, appetite changes, weight gain, difficulty concentrating.

Recognizing the symptoms the SAD isn’t difficult, understanding where it originates from is more of a challenge. During the winter months, many of us tend to avoid the outdoors due to the cold. When daylight hours are already numbered, the lack of natural light toys with the seretonin and melatonin hormone levels in our bodies – two chemicals that are responsible for mood and sleep patterns.

There are ways for people to keep Seasonal Affective Disorder under control by modifying their own lifetyles. Methods include getting outside, making your living environment brighter, and exercising and staying active. However, these modifications alone may not be enough for some individuals.

Medical providers do provide other specialized treatments in order to help those with SAD. Professionals may prescribe an antidepressant or suggest psychotherapy or light therapy (phototherapy). Light therapy involves utilizing a light therapy box for exposure to additional light, which mimics the effect of the sun.

According to Psychology Today, it is estimated that 10 million Americans have Seasonal Affective Disorder, and trends suggest that it is more common the further north you go. So, next time you think you’re having a “down” day, remember it may be something more like Seasonal Affective Disorder.

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