How to Fend Off Depression in Winter
November 15, 2008
While some people look forward to fall and winter, others dread the cooler temperatures and shorter days. They know that the winter season will bring worsening symptoms of depression.
Up to 3 percent of the population in the U.S. may suffer from winter depression, which experts term seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. Countless others have a less severe form, dubbed the "winter blues." Symptoms may include:
• Extreme fatigue
• Getting too much sleep
• Difficulty concentrating
• Weight gain
Several treatments have been shown to improve seasonal winter depression, including:
• Light therapy
• Talk therapy
Light therapy might be as simple as getting up early and walking outside on a bright winter morning. A technique called "dawn simulation" -- in which a light is programmed to turn on early in the morning in your bedroom -- can also help.
Light boxes are widely sold over the Internet, and exposure to them can help. When buying one, choose one that is at least 1 foot by 1.5 feet. These larger boxes have more supporting research. Patients sit in front of the light boxes daily for a specified amount of time. Getting bright light in the morning is best for most people.
Most people with seasonal winter depression respond best not only to bright light exposure in the morning, but also to a low dose of the hormone melatonin in the afternoon to reset their body clocks to normal.
For some people with winter depression, getting more therapy during colder months can help, too. A boost in activity will also help, even walking around the block or getting out to a ball game.
One warning: Craving carbohydrates -- especially sweets -- is a common symptom of SAD. But the boost in energy you get form these simple carbs is temporary, and the extra sweets can mean you'll put on weight.