Winter blues no laughing matter

ESCANABA — With the hours of daylight growing shorter each day, some people in the area may have started to feel the influence of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) –a type of depression triggered by changing seasons.

“For many people, it starts in the fall,” Outpatient Services Clinician for Pathways Community Mental Health Lisa Warden said. However, there are some simple steps people can take to mitigate this condition.

SAD is thought to affect millions of Americans each year. While winter-onset SAD is the most common manifestation of this condition, it can also affect people in summer. In both cases, SAD is apparently linked to the body’s changing circadian rhythms over the year.

SAD can affect both people who already have depression and people who do not. Its symptoms vary from person to person, Warden said.

“They can be a little bit different for different people,” she said. However, some common symptoms include depression, cravings for sweet foods, irritability, weight gain, and lethargy.

For winter-onset SAD, one popular treatment is the use of a “light box” or a full-spectrum light bulb to simulate increased exposure to sunlight. Warden said this can be very effective.

“Just your skin having access to the full spectrum causes some … changes to the circadian rhythm,” she said.

However, this is not the only method people can use to cope with SAD.

“You can make a ton of dietary or environmental changes,” Warden said. She recommended that people dealing with SAD put living plants in their homes and offices.

Therapy can also help people with SAD, Warden said.

“When our motivation is low, we have a tendency to be self-degrading in our self-talk,” she said. She noted that therapy is a good way to deal with this.

Additionally, physical activity can play an important role in minimizing the effects of SAD.

“Exercise is really super-helpful,” Warden said. She noted that even low-intensity exercise can help in this regard.