Lighten Up

Don't let the season get you down. Make it feel like spring inside with bright colors and abundant light.
Amy Bickers Mercer

Bears have the right idea. Winter is the perfect time to hibernate. Who doesn't wish they could crawl into a cave until the vernal equinox? (Unfortunately, our bosses, spouses, children, and friends might have something to say about such beastly behavior.) Because life must go on, even in the gloomy chill of winter, experts have studied the cause of our cold-weather blahs and its more serious cousin--the appropriately abbreviated SAD, or seasonal affective disorder. The culprit: darkness. The shorter days of winter increase levels of melatonin, a sleep-related hormone that can cause depression. Thankfully experts have discovered ways to fight this annual affliction.

SAD or Just Sad?
First, you need to determine whether your doldrums are minor or major. The truth is that SAD affects only an estimated 6% of the population. Another 10% to 20% experience mild symptoms. The trick is to figure out if your blues are mild and normal or severe enough to require treatment.

Symptoms of SAD
You may have seasonal affective disorder if you regularly experience the following: depression, loss of energy, social withdrawal, increased sleepiness, overeating, and weight gain. SAD also makes concentrating difficult, especially in the afternoon. Other signs that you suffer from SAD include full remission from depression once spring arrives and seasonal episodes of depression that significantly outnumber nonseasonal episodes.

For serious cases of SAD, visit your doctor, who may prescribe light therapy, medication, or psychotherapy. If these methods do not alleviate your symptoms, your doctor may prescribe antidepressant medication.

Healthy Benefits
The best way to deal with minor seasonal depression is to be proactive. Put the comfort foods down, shed those flannel pajamas, and take action.

  • Remove window coverings that block sunlight. Exposure to light helps prevent increased production of melatonin.
  • Go outside. Taking walks on sunny days will often help fight depression. According to one study, an hour's walk in sunlight is as effective as two and a half hours spent sitting under bright artificial light.
  • Surround yourself with cheerful colors. Toss throw pillows in shades of yellow and orange on a neutral sofa, and put out vases of vibrantly hued blooms.

 

This article is from the January 2005 issue of Southern Living.