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SAD can affect anyone, but there are ways to fight it

For many Americans the winter season signals the loss of sunlight and the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder, also called SAD for short.

Misunderstood by many people, Seasonal Affective Disorder is a clinical disorder, characterized by moderate depression, pronounced fatigue, lethargy and a general sense of heaviness. These symptoms usually begin somewhere around October and begin to dissipate in late March or April.

The cause is simply the lack of sunlight.

If you suffer from these wintertime blues, you are not alone. It is estimated that there are over 34 million SAD sufferers in America today, with women sufferers outnumbering men four to one. Research tends to imply that 2 percent of our population suffers severely with SAD and about 10 percent of our population suffers from moderate to mild symptoms. Across the world, incidences increase with the increased distance from the equator.

But not all sufferers have identical symptomology. All sufferers report mild to severe depression, but some note excessive eating and weight gain. Others report an increase in the craving of carbohydrates in their diets, while others discuss fatigue, which tends to be worse in the afternoon. Some sufferers note feeling hopeless and sad, while others report an increase in crying or excessive sleeping and napping.

There are those who doubt the disorder of Seasonal Affective Disorder and believe it is a new catchphrase for those who are lazy or lack taking action during the winter months. However, researcher Dr. Alfred Lewy first discovered depressive symptoms during the fall and winter in 1845. His discoveries were brought to light (sorry for the little pun) in the mid 1980s when it was discovered that bright light released melatonin into the body, relieving the symptoms of depression. Typically, the depression or winter blues are lowered when bright light exposure enters the eyes.

First, it is helpful to decide if you are feeling down because of Seasonal Affective Disorder or if you have other reasons for your depression.

The cyclical nature of SAD is its easiest identifier. Do you usually feel happier and more upbeat in the summer? Do you start feeling gloomy as fall arrives, dreading the coming winter? Does your energy level seriously drop as the thermometer falls? Finally, does your weight go up regularly every winter only to then drop in spring and summer? If you answer yes to these questions there is a very good chance you have SAD.

But there are some simple techniques that will minimize the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder:

• Direct sunlight: The first suggestion for treatment is absolutely free! One of the simplest solutions is to incorporate more time outdoors during daylight hours. Rain or shine try to gain exposure to the sun for at least 30 to 45 minutes every day, even if the sunlight is filtered or indirect.

• Light treatments: Light boxes or full spectrum bulbs are commonly available at many stores or healthy living catalogs. The light bulbs are less expensive than light boxes (generally costing $300) and generally are not as effective; however they do offer a low cost option for treatment of light exposure. Research indicates a 70 percent success rate for light therapy, with the highest response from those who utilize a light box versus light bulbs. Typically sufferers sit in front of the light box or bulb for 30 to 45 minutes each day and require 2500 lux exposure.

• Water: Research indicates increasing water intake will lower the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Try to drink 8 to 10 glasses of water a day (and no—you won't float away!)

• Exercise: Establish a daily exercise program and try to work out in the mornings or early afternoon. Late night exercise tends to affect sleeping patterns and encourages sleeplessness.

• Diet: Research suggests an increase in complex carbohydrates such as pasta, potatoes and bread. These foods tend to aid in the production of serotonin and decrease the symptoms of depression.

• Medication: Today there are numerous medications that are extremely effective in minimizing the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

• Counseling: Therapy can be extremely effective in combination with all the other techniques mentioned in this article. Counseling is beneficial in learning to deal with the depressive symptoms and learning means to change thought patterns and behaviors that add to the burden of depression.

Hopefully these suggestions will be helpful for those of you who suffer from SAD. But I've always thought it might be helpful for the City of Peoria to purchase a giant spotlight that could be shown on our city during the day. Surely the bright light would decrease many sufferers' symptoms and relieve those winter blues. Maybe I'll call the Mayor and see what he has to say about this idea.

In the meantime, maybe I should just go outside for a while and take my dog for a walk in the sunlight.

Contact her at (309) 693-8200 or jmatherapy@att.net


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