BayWellness — Winter 2012
IT MAY BE MORE THAN JUST THE WINTER BLUES
Last winter in New Jersey seemed endless. We experienced a record number of long gray days with cold temperatures and lots of snow and ice. Many of us would say it was "depressing." For some of us, it actually was.
Seasonal affective disorder is a true medical condition usually seen in areas where there are long, sunless winters but even in New Jersey, when the amount of daylight decreases and the temperature drops outdoors, some people experience the feelings of sadness, lethargy, appetite changes, weight gain, moodiness, lack of concentration, and social withdrawal that signal seasonal affective disorder.
Board certified psychiatrist Nanditha Krishnamsetty, M.D. says that seasonal affective disorder (also called SAD) is a type of depression that occurs at the same time every year. "If you're like most people with seasonal affective disorder, your symptoms start in the fall and may continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody," says Dr. Krishnamsetty.
If you already experience depression disorders, you may be more prone to seasonal affective disorder.
"Don't brush off that yearly feeling as simply a case of the winter blues," says Dr. Krishnamsetty. "There are very effective therapies for seasonal affective disorder, including light therapy (phototherapy), psychotherapy, and medications. Exercise and supplements such as Vitamin D can also be effective in fighting SAD. Addressing the problem early in the season can help you keep your mood steady throughout the year."
Light therapy is effective and easy, says Dr. Krishnamsetty. "Phototherapy lamps are available with 10,000 lux. Just spend thirty minutes in front of the lamp each morning while you read the paper and have your coffee. The lamp mimics light from the sun. Don't use it at night though, which would throw off your sleep pattern."
Anti-depressants can also be helpful. "People who regularly experience seasonal affective disorder know the symptoms," continues Dr. Krishnamsetty. "These patients do very well starting on medication in the fall, continuing through the winter, and then easing off as winter Winds Down".
"WHEN TO SEE YOUR DOCTOR
It's normal to have some days when you feel down, especially during a dreary winter. But if you feel down for days at a time and can't seem to get motivated to do the activities you normally enjoy, see your doctor, Dr. Krishnamsetty concludes. "This is especially important if your sleep patterns and appetite have changed, if you feel hopeless, think about suicide, or are increasingly turning to alcohol for comfort or relaxation."
The cause of seasonal affective disorder remains unknown but a few specific factors may come into play including your circadian rhythm (or body clock); your body's level of the natural hormone melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood; and serotonin levels, a neurotransmitter that affects mood and whose level in the body can be reduced by lack of sunlight.
Make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your symptoms. With treatment, seasonal affective disorder is something we can all get through as we count down the days until winter's end.