Do you suffer from the “winter blues?”  Do you regularly sleep more often, have little energy, and crave sweets or starchy foods in the winter months? Do you often feel sad, depressed, anxious or uninterested in things that usually are important to you?  If this sounds like you or someone you know, then you might be experiencing seasonal affective disorder (SAD).Many experts believe that winter-onset SAD is caused by a lack of sunlight during the winter months, when the days are shorter.  The lack of daylight can cause a significant, lasting downturn of mood by causing the levels of the brain chemical that affects mood –serotonin–to drop; by decreasing melatonin levels in your body-a hormone that affects sleep patterns and mood; and by disrupting your body’s internal clock, further affecting your sleep patterns.  The resulting symptoms can include depression, anxiety, hopelessness, difficulty concentrating, lack of energy, oversleeping, loss of interest in activities, a craving for foods high in carbohydrates and weight gain.SAD is much more common the further one lives from the equator because the drop in daylight is more dramatic.  Those suffering from mild cases of SAD can benefit from additional exposure to the sun, which can include a long walk outside each day, or arranging your home or office so that you are exposed to a window during the day.  For many suffering from more severe cases, light therapy (phototherapy) has proven an effective treatment option, and includes exposure to a very bright light (usually from a special fluorescent lamp) for a few hours each day during the winter months. For severe cases of SAD, relief has been found with psychotherapy sessions, and, in some cases, prescription antidepressants.Feeling down for a day or two, especially in winter, is normal.  But, if that feeling extends for days at a time and you are feeling overly tired, unmotivated and depressed, you should see your doctor to be screened for SAD.  With a little intervention, you can take good care of your health and ensure that you can enjoy the pleasures of the season.

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