How to beat the winter blues

Over 2,000 years have passed since the historic physician Hippocrates noted: “It is chiefly the changing of the seasons that produces diseases.” Without a doubt, he was a witness to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a biological form of the winter blues.

ACCORDING TO the Czech Psychiatric Society, more than 15% of Czechs suffer from depression. For some of them, this is caused by a condition known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. A less severe form of SAD causes a general malaise each winter. How do we distinguish between these similar conditions? Even more pertinent as the snow falls in the darkness – how do we beat these winter blues?

SAD facts
SAD is caused by a decrease in daylight hours. Melatonin, which is responsible for feeling rested, is highest in the evening hours. A surplus of darkness tricks our body into thinking it’s evening, and produces extra melatonin. For some people, this causes seasonal affective disorder.
The further north the country, the higher the rate of SAD. A 1992 study in Fairbanks, Alaska, found that 9% of their people suffered from SAD, as opposed to an estimated 6% in Europe or America.
SAD is most common in women from 20 to 40.
The average onset of SAD occurs between 18 and 30.
The incidence of SAD decreases with age.

Thankfully, current sufferers of SAD have access to technologies and resources that the Greek “father of medicine” lacked. For example, how to distinguish between winter blahs and the chemical condition of SAD. Sleep problems, lethargy, overeating, loss of sex drive, apathy; all are characteristic of depression. All are also characteristic of SAD. So how do you tell one from the other? The SAD association, based in Steyning, England, explains: “the symptoms of SAD usually recur regularly each winter, starting between September and November and continuing until March or April, and a diagnosis can be made after three or more consecutive years.” In other words, occasionally feeling teary around the Christmas season is nothing to be alarmed about.
For many, the winter blues don’t peak until January or February. These months are often referred to as the “dead of winter” for reasons other than bare trees and lifeless vegetation. After New Year’s resolutions are broken, it is easy to carry around a lifeless feeling. Also, with the absence of holiday distraction, it is easy to slip into monotony. Thankfully, there are ways to mitigate the winter doldrums, and feel more bliss than blues.

· Lighten up:
Ideally, we could awake hours earlier and take a brisk walk in the dawn’s first light. Of course, this may not always be practical. An alternative is to install full-spectrum lighting in one area of your house. Your body interprets this type of light, which is 10 to 15 times brighter than regular light, the same way as sunlight. Exposure to full-spectrum light need only be 15 to 30 minutes per day. Light boxes, and light visors (worn on the head like a cap) may also be used. As this is a medical therapy, it is best to consult your doctor regarding the specifics.

· Diet and exercise:
Don’t panic – you don’t need to join a gym, or restrict your food intake. Taking a stroll on your lunch break will expose you to both light and extra oxygen. The best SAD diet is to work with your cravings, instead of resisting them. Spreading intake of carbohydrates throughout the day, will stave off a binge, as well as decreasing cravings for those rich and fattening sweets.

· Work smart:
Ever notice how there seems to be more work in winter? It’s not your imagination. With less employee vacations, bosses seize the opportunity for more employee productivity. Though the temptation may be to make a cozy fire out of your additional paperwork, a better solution is summed up by the Nike motto – Just Do It. At the same time though, pace yourself. Taking small steps toward the finished product will ensure it’s done well, and on time.


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