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SAD, Winter blues: Disorder or normal seasonal response?

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Winter blues weren't given much serious thought until the 1980s. It was then that Norman E. Rosenthal and his colleagues at the National Institute of Mental Health studied and named the seasonal response. Perhaps generations before then, folks living closer to the land just took the gray, dark days of Winter in stride and used it as a time to slow down, stay inside and repair tools or mend clothes, in preparation for the busy planting, harvesting, and canning seasons ahead.

Seasonal affective disorder is believed to be a response to the shorter, darker days of Winter and the lesser amounts of sunlight that affect melatonin and serotonin levels in the body. It is characterized by a lack of interest in activities, a strong desire to sleep more and eat more, especially carbs, contributing to weight gain. Sounds like a bear settling in for his long Winter hibernation, doesn't it?

While some of the symptoms of depression are similar to those of seasonal affective disorder, including a lack of interest in activities, other symptoms are often reversed. Depression may be characterized by insomnia, lack of appetite and weight loss.

It was once widely accepted that our response to the shorter, darker, colder days of winter was a form of depression, a disorder, but some experts now believe it may be a natural winter adaptation not so different from the various forms of hibernation and dormancy in the animal kingdom. Perhaps, if we're designed to need seasonal rest as well as daily and weekly rest, we'd feel better if we could just give in to our seasonal instincts.

However, in today's society, most people can't "save up" for a dormant period in Winter. They must fight the "hibernation" urge because their job expects them to be as productive in the dead of Winter as in the warm, sunny days of Spring. For these people, the Mayo Clinic suggests light therapy, which is discussed in the video above. Other suggestions include planning fewer extra curricular activities and scheduling vacation time during Winter.

Suggested reading:

Study shows Super Bowl may raise heart attack risk
Carbon monoxide levels and safe heaters in Winter
Houstonians may need more sleep in Winter to ease SAD
Chronic stress may be the most reliable indicator of heart attack risk
Hot potato/green bean soup for cold wintry nights

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