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Winter Depression

Walking in a winter wonderland
Walking in a winter wonderland

The first snowfall of the season has hit Wisconsin this week. It’s time to bundle up, because another cold winter is rapidly approaching. ‘Tis the season for the “winter blues.”

Winter blues, also known as Seasonal Depression, is a Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) common among men and women of all ages. Around late fall and early winter people with SAD begin to feel the following symptoms, which reoccur every year; sleeping more than usual, craving sweet or sugary foods, weight gain, irritability, heaviness in arms and legs, and social conflicts.

SAD can also occur in the summertime, but is less common. While the exact causes of seasonal depression are unknown, scientists believe that it could be related to the lack of sunlight causing chemical changes in the brain.

It is important to seek medical care if you think you may be suffering from seasonal depression or any other depression, especially if any of the following symptoms are present; feelings of extreme sadness, hopelessness, and emptiness, loss of energy or increased need for sleep, unexplained changes in appetite, inability to get out of bed or complete activities, social conflicts, or feelings of suicide. If left untreated SAD can become more severe over time. Severe depression can cause damage to physical and mental health, relationships with others, job effectiveness, and enjoyment of life.

While professional medical treatment is available, it is rather costly. Medical treatment involves a technique called bright light therapy, which involves exposure to high intensity lights. This therapy runs for about $200-$500 a session. Other professional medical treatments include anti-depressant medication and ingestion of a controversial herb supplement called St. John’s wort.

Don’t fret, there are more costly ways of treating SAD. Some methods include:

· Spend at least 30 minutes outside every day, especially during the months when SAD affects you most. Midday, when the light is strongest, is the best time to be outdoors.
· Set a timer on a light to go on early in the morning in the bedroom.
· Use a dawn simulator for a more naturalistic artificial dawn.
· Take daily walks outside.
· Increase indoor lighting with regular lamps and fixtures.

To help deal with the disorder there are numerous support groups available. For more information on the signs and symptoms of SAD, information on support groups, and treatment options click here.

MythBuster: Tanning beds are NOT and effective treatment for winter depression. Not only are you not going to treat the side effects of SAD, but you’re also exposing yourself to harmful ultraviolet waves.