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Shine a light on the winter blues
Sunshine, exercise help people with Seasonal Affective Disorder

Date published: 1/11/2009

NOW THAT MOST of us have packed away the holiday trimmings and recovered from the chaos of parties and visits with relatives, some may experience an unexpected slump in January while the days are short and the skies are gray.

If a bout of the "winter blues" is brief and easily remedied by a trip to the gym or a night out with friends, then it is likely that this melancholy will pass.

If, however, a sense of gloom hangs on too long, you may need to consider the possibility that you are suffering from depression. More specifically, some people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.

The most typical type of SAD occurs during the winter months, and it occurs more frequently in northern regions. Studies indicate that there is a much lower occurrence of SAD in sunny Florida, for example, than in some northern parts of the country.

Symptoms of winter SAD include a sense of hopelessness, loss of energy, oversleeping and appetite changes (particularly carbohydrate cravings).

These are also symptoms of other types of depression, but if you notice a pattern in which these symptoms reoccur during the same time each year, it is possible that SAD may be the culprit.

Left untreated, SAD may pass with time--or it may become quite serious. If, for any reason, you experience severe symptoms of depression, you should seek treatment. If your symptoms are manageable, then there are several things you can do to improve your mood:

LIGHT EXPOSURE

I recommend making sure you have one of those nice, puffy, warm coats that are on sale this time of year, so you can get outdoors for some sunshine. Light is one of the primary remedies for SAD.

If you can stay warm enough, there are plenty of fun things to do in the winter sun. Walking and hiking are always possible. Any time we get a couple of inches of snow, I pull out an old pair of cross-country skis. Any flat area is considered fair game for a ski trail.


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Dr. Delise Dickard, a licensed professional counselor, is the director of Riverside Counseling in Fredericksburg.