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Stress from having fewer daylight hours can result in Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.)


Friday, October 31, 2008

 Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.)

It is the end of Daylight Savings Time and the beginning of shorter days and longer nights. For many people, especially women, this annual change of seasons also triggers a change in mood, leading to feelings of fatigue, depression and anxiety — more severe than just winter blues.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, about half a million Americans suffer from winter-onset depression, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. Although more common in northern regions where the winters are longer, the condition plagues residents in southern regions, too.

MENTAL HEALTH

Stress from having fewer daylight hours can result in Seasonal Affective Disorder

By VIKKI CONWELL

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Friday, October 31, 2008

It is  the end of Daylight Savings Time and the beginning of shorter days and longer nights. For many people, especially women, this annual change of seasons also triggers a change in mood, leading to feelings of fatigue, depression and anxiety — more severe than just winter blues.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, about half a million Americans suffer from winter-onset depression, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. Although more common in northern regions where the winters are longer, the condition plagues residents in southern regions, too.

Symptoms, which can include weight gain and insomnia, can start out mild and become more severe as the season progresses. They usually lift during spring and summer but return about the same time every year.

Many women already experience heightened stress leading up to the holidays trying to juggle work and family demands, plan for holiday gatherings, shop for gifts and cook. Lower the temperatures, gray the days and dim the sunlight, and women succumb to seasonal affective disorder more often than men.

“They’re trying to cram more into less daylight hours,” said Jacqueline Dawes, owner of Brookhaven Retreat, an East Tennessee residential treatment center for women. She said that many women complain of feeling completely helpless by the end of October, isolate themselves and create excuses for not going out. “Suddenly they find themselves just kind of stuck,” she said.

To unstick yourself, start by unloading some of the stressors.

Instead of taking on more during the holidays, prioritize activities and make good choices about what you can get done. Plan ahead and share responsibilities with other family members. Learn to accept imperfection and set boundaries.

“Women don’t like to say no,” said Dawes, of women’s need to perpetuate the superwoman image. “It’s okay to say no.”

When feeling down in the dumps consumes your life, especially if you struggle to get out of bed, socialize and sleep, seek help. Don’t let depression persist or worsen into feelings of hopelessness or thoughts of suicide.

A doctor will conduct a psychological evaluation, asking questions about changes in your mood, behavior, sleeping and eating patterns and a physical exam to check for underlying health problems. Treatment options include light therapy, antidepressant medication or psychotherapy.

“Once a woman understands what and why it’s happening and understands the skills of self regulating, she learns the tools to manage it,” said Dawes.

TAKING CONTROL

Unmanaged stress can lead to depression (seasonal or otherwise). Here are some ways to avoid feeling overwhelmed:

Manage expectations. Pace yourself. Organize your time. Make a list and prioritize important activities.

Set realistic goals. Know what you can and cannot do. Don’t put the entire focus on just one day. Activities can be spread out to lessen stress and increase enjoyment.

Learn to say no. If you say yes only to what you really want to do, you’ll avoid feeling resentful and overwhelmed.

Forget perfection. TV specials are filled with happy endings, but in real life, people don’t usually resolve problems within an hour or two. Expect and accept imperfections.

Share the load. You don’t have to do it alone. Let others share in the responsibility of planning activities.

Don’t abandon healthy habits. Continue to get plenty of sleep, eat a balanced diet and take time to relax. Don’t turn to alcohol or unprescribed drugs for relief.

Make time for yourself. Spend at least 15 minutes alone, without distractions, to recharge your batteries. Take a walk at night, listen to soothing music or take slow breaths.

Lighten up. Make your home sunnier and brighter. Open blinds, add skylights and trim tree branches that block sunlight.

Get out. Get outdoors on sunny days, even during winter. Take a long walk, eat lunch at a nearby park, or simply sit peacefully on a bench and soak up the sun.

Exercise regularly. Physical exercise helps relieve stress and anxiety, both of which can increase SAD symptoms. Being more fit can make you feel better about yourself, too, which can lift your mood.

Socialize. Stay connected with people you enjoy being around. They can offer support, a shoulder to cry on or a joke to give you a little boost.

Take a trip. If possible, take winter vacations in sunny, warm locations if you have winter SAD, or cooler locations if you have summer SAD.

Source: National Mental Health Association, Mayo Clinic

BEYOND THE BLUES

Common symptoms of winter-onset seasonal affective disorder include:

Depression, hopelessness, anxiety, loss of energy, social withdrawal, oversleeping, loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed, change in appetite (especially craving foods high in carbohydrates), weight gain, difficulty concentrating and processing information, fatigue, irritability, increased sensitivity to social rejection, avoidance of social situations.

Source: National Mental Health Association, Mayo Clinic

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