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Beating the Winter Blues

It’s that time of year when the days get shorter and the nights get longer. The alarm clock jerks you out of bed in the morning to a dark room. These winter days can take a toll on your mood.

ADAN: People look forward to winter like they look forward to a root canal.

Dr. Francoise Adan is the Medical Director at University Hospital’s Connor Integrative Medicine Network. She specializes in helping people beat the winter blues.

ADAN: But for most people, it’s no big deal, it’s mild symptoms, and they manage it very well.

She says that it’s natural in winter to feel an urge to hunker down a bit, and stay in at night instead of going out.

Some people though can’t shake the impulse to stay in bed. They might crave carbohydrates, gain weight, lose interest in things they used to enjoy. About 5 percent of adults have a condition called “seasonal affective disorder” or SAD, as it’s known. Another 10 to 20 percent of people may experience a milder form of the disorder. SAD is serious, says Adan.

ADAN: It is a form of depression.

SAD is more common in women, and in people living further north. This is because SAD is linked to daylight, or lack thereof. During long winters, when people don’t see much sun, it can hinder the production of serotonin, a feel-good chemical in the brain.

ADAN: And for some people, the production is dramatically decreased. Those people are the ones that are going to suffer from seasonal affective disorder.

There’s a good option to reverse this effect. Spend your winters in Florida. Not in the budget? Well, here’s another, perhaps more manageable remedy. It’s called a lightbox, and you can get one for about $200. It produces much more intense beams than typical indoor lighting. It’s pretty simple, says Adan:

ADAN: And the idea is to spend some time staring at the light and getting the light through your eyes.

You’re not going to get a sunburn (or a tan), but the light will stimulate hormone production and other biological processes.

ADAN: What’s remarkable is that most people really see a difference in just a few days.

A healthy diet and exercise will also help lift your mood. But if the thought of a treadmill makes you squirm, Adan says to think in other terms:

ADAN: Get moving. It could be dancing, it could be yoga, it could be playing with the kids, taking the dog for a walk…

This sort of thing is a good pick-me-up for anyone, not just those with the full blown disorder.

Adan says people may also want to consider a Vitamin D supplement. Vitamin D is produced by the body while in the sun—so northerners may be lacking. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to heart disease and cancer, and some research also suggests a link with depression. It’s easy to get a blood test to check your levels.

anne.glausser@ideastream.org | 216-916-6129