Palmetto Parent 2010 December Issue : Page 36

Winter woes Feeling down? You could be suffering from seasonal affective disorder Story by Chris Worthy 36 Palmetto Parent December 2010

Winter woes

Chris Worthy

<font size =3>Feeling down? You could be suffering from seasonal affective disorder</font><br /> <br /> <b>Learn how to treat seasonal affective disorder</b><br /> <br /> Toni Morton welcomes the coming of winter. <br /> <br /> Morton, a Lexington resident and blogger at, said she struggled during the hot Midlands summer as she and her son, Jackson, now 1½, stayed indoors to avoid the heat.<br /> <br /> “This summer when it was so hot and it was just miserable, I could not get cool,” Morton said. “Because we were stuck in the house so much, I noticed I was getting cabin fever — I couldn’t get outside to get sunlight.”<br /> <br /> Instead, Morton took Jackson outdoors in the early morning or after the sun had set. She found ways to cope, but is counting on cooler temperatures to afford more time outdoors.<br /> <br /> But for some people, the opposite is true. <br /> <br /> Short days and cooler temperatures drive them indoors and they find themselves facing an insidious struggle that comes and goes with the seasons.<br /> <br /> Seasonal affective disorder, commonly known as SAD, is a type of major depression, according to Laura Smith, a New Mexico psychologist and co-author of several books including “Seasonal Affective Disorder for Dummies.” <br /> <br /> “People tend to feel low and sad, but unlike depression, it comes and goes with the seasons,” she said. “It’s thought to be caused not by the cold, but by the lack of light.”<br /> <br /> Smith said SAD mimics a type of hibernation, in a sense.<br /> <br /> “You slow down,” she said. “You tend to eat more carbs. You want to stay in bed with the covers over your head.”<br /> <br /> South Carolina Department of Mental Health psychologist Sean Dolan said SAD is less prevalent in the state than in states farther from the equator, but South Carolinians can and do suffer from it.<br /> <br /> “It messes up the sleep-wake cycle,” he said. “In the summer, I am used to going to bed a couple of hours after the sun goes down. Usually there is a pattern. (Those who suffer from SAD) will have problems every year. Come spring, they start feeling better.”<br /> <br /> Christiana DeGregorie, a psychologist with Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System, agreed.<br /> <br /> “As the days get shorter, your circadian rhythm shifts,” DeGregorie said. “It gets thrown off schedule. There’s a change in how people’s bodies regulate themselves naturally. Sunlight is one of these fantastic things — it brightens your mood.” <br /> <br /> <b>Symptoms of SAD</b><br /> There are some symptoms to be aware of as the winter days come.<br /> <br /> “People experience a dip in mood,” DeGregorie said.<br /> <br /> DeGregorie said those with SAD may have less energy, sleep more and avoid being around people. As with other forms of depression, those with severe episodes may even experience suicidal thoughts. Symptoms may be mild to severe. <br /> <br /> “We are looking for a pattern that happens every year, with symptoms starting every year as the days get shorter and getting better as the days get longer,” she said. <br /> <br /> DeGregorie said though the holiday season may be difficult for some and may trigger depression as well, SAD is different because it lingers after the holidays into January and February.<br /> <br /> Dolan said women tend to be at higher risk for developing SAD, as are those ages 15 – 55 and those with a personal history or family history of depression. <br /> <br /> <b>How to feel better</b><br /> Treatments for SAD are similar to those of regular depression, according to Dolan, with the exception of some light therapies.<br /> <br /> Dolan said medication is sometimes prescribed and patients may need cognitive behavioral therapy.<br /> <br /> “We talk about how thoughts and behaviors are affecting things,” he said. “My thoughts, feelings and behaviors are connected. If I am behaving how a depressed person would behave, I am going to feel depressed. I can’t let my feelings guide my behavior. If I’m not going to do something until I feel like it, I’m never going to do it. If I act the part, I am going to feel the part. You have the power to feel different.”<br /> <br /> In addition to traditional treatments, light boxes or light therapy may be helpful.<br /> <br /> “I had friends from Alaska who called it the happy box,” Dolan said. <br /> <br /> With light therapy, patients sit in front of a light box with bulbs designed to replicate sunlight. Dawn simulation lights, which gradually get brighter in the morning, can also help regulate the sleep-wake cycle, according to Dolan.<br /> <br /> But milder symptoms may have even simpler solutions. <br /> <br /> “Get outside in the sunlight,” DeGregorie said. “Be active. One of the simplest treatments for depression is exercise.”<br /> <br /> “People should get treatment when their symptoms are interfering with their life,” Smith said. “I think a lot of people don’t get treatment for SAD. There are so many things you can do, including getting outside in the middle of the day and taking a walk. The best treatment, in my opinion, is to get out and do things outdoors.”<br /> <br /> But above all, Smith said those with SAD should arm themselves with information and find — with medical help if necessary — the best way to treat SAD until spring returns.<br /> <br /> “If you have it, learn about it and do something about it,” she said. “You don’t have to suffer.”

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