Holiday blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder? |

Holiday blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder?

by Karen Brier

The holidays are over and everyone seems a little down. Is it the holiday blues or something more serious? According to Dr. Norman Rosenthal, a noted researcher in the field, six percent of the U.S. population, primarily in northern climates, is affected by the most extreme symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. Another 14 percent of the adult U.S. population suffers from “winter blues” a milder form of the disorder.

As the days become longer – particularly after daylight savings time when it gets dark earlier – people with SAD start to slow down and have a hard time waking up in the morning. Energy starts to ebb and we compensate with eating more deserts and other starching foods. It gets harder and harder to focus and easier to pull into your own dark thoughts and away from friends and family. If not treated, work and social life can really suffer and becomes a downward spiral leading to depression that can last for months until the longer days push the blues away.

The good news is that there are a lot of treatment options. I like light therapy and use my Apollo P3 light on my desk at work several times a day, starting in October. I increase my exercise level and try to resist the urge to gobble down the carbs, focusing on high fiber and protein and healthy fats. I also supplement with vitamins B and D in addition to my usual calcium and multi-vitamin.

This year I even tried a treatment that the National Health has been prescribing in the United Kingdom for years: gardening away my blues. Don’t laugh – there are studies that show contact with soil and plants boosts your serotonin – the brain chemical responsible for happy thoughts and feelings – which makes sense given our hunter/gatherer backgrounds.

Most years these things have worked for me, but anything can tip the delicate balance – work or relationship stress or challenges like moving, changing jobs, or a financial crisis. This year I got bronchitis in October and it put me off my exercise schedule and I lost the battle. I finally went to my doctor for help and will be using meds and talk therapy to make it through the dark days.

Dec. 21st was the Winter Solstice and the longest night of the year. Now the days will get a little longer each year until the Summer Solstice on June 21. I don’t know if it’s a psychological lift from knowing that or the meds or the talk therapy, but I feel a little lighter, a little less like pulling the covers over my head and hibernating through the winter.

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Talk to your health care provider and learn more for yourself and any family members who seem affected, since SAD seems to run in families. For more information about SAD, I highly recommend Dr Rosenthal’s book: “Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder.”

Reach Karen Brier at, or 790-0072.

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