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Do The Holidays Seem More Sad Than Happy To You?

The holidays are upon us and “everyone” seems to be in a good mood – or maybe not.  If you find yourself in a funk rather than in a good mood and seem to be having trouble getting moving, there may be an important reason for that. One that should not be ignored. A fair percentage of the population suffers from symptoms of depression at this time of year – every year. If the symptoms are not due to an external cause such as less income due to lack of work or sadness due to losses at this time of year, you might be suffering from winter seasonal depression. This type of depression comes around the same time of year starting around October and lasts until the spring. Another name for this is Seasonal Affective Disorder – or SAD. The type that occurs in the fall and winter is sometimes also referred to as the Winter Blues.

But it is much more than “the blues”. SAD has the same symptoms as a major depressive disorder:  (1) Feeling hopeless, down, sad and/or irritable most of the day every day and (2) No longer enjoying or caring about doing the things that used to be enjoyable. In addition, other symptoms are present, such as:

The causes of SAD are not clear, though there are a few theories. SAD might be caused by changes in the body’s natural rhythm (circadian clock changes) due to changes in sunlight. SAD might be caused by decreased serotonin (a mood hormone) due to decreased sunlight. Another theory is that it is caused by an increase in melatonin production due to longer hours of darkness. Melatonin increases sleepiness and a desire to eat carbohydrates – sort of a hibernation hormone.  Or it could be caused by decreased levels of Vitamin D which can lead to depression itself.

Whatever the cause, there are some helpful treatments including: light therapy, medication, psychotherapy and mind-body therapies. Light therapy involves sitting in front of a light box for 20 to 6o minutes daily, preferably in the morning. The light is thought to help regulate melatonin production. (For information on light boxes click this link.

Medications include the use of antidepressants such as Prozac, Lexapro, Zoloft and Wellbutrin. Medication may be combined with light therapy for an enhanced effect. The medication is usually stopped once spring arrives.

Psychotherapy involves help identifying negative thoughts and behaviors. The therapist may also concentrate efforts on helping the affected person learn ways to cope, manage stress and decrease avoidance behaviors.

Mind-Body therapies and taking care of oneself are ways to prevent symptoms in addition to treat symptoms. Taking care of oneself includes getting outside during daylight hours – preferably in the sun. Self-care also includes planning and following through with physical activity and other pleasurable winter activities. Adding in planned relaxation through yoga or tai chi, meditation or guided imagery as  well as music or art therapy may help to make the mind-body connection and lift one’s mood.

It is important to monitor one’s mood and energy level and take seek help if needed – sooner is always better than later. If you find that this information pertains to you, make an appointment with your primary care provider for further evaluation and treatment.

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