Winter is the darkest time of year and doctors know a lack of light can affect your mood.
Every year, millions of people develop symptoms of the “winter blues” or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Symptoms include losing interest in activities, loss of energy, withdrawal from friends or work, and eating high-carb, high-fat “comfort food” with resulting weight gain. This helps to perpetuate a vicious cycle, with the weight gain adding to passivity, watching TV to excess, and lethargy.
“SAD is more common in young people and women,” says Dr. Herbert Mandell, medical director for the 125-year-old national children’s charity KidsPeace and the KidsPeace Children’s Hospital. “And not surprisingly, it increases the further north you get from the equator.”
SAD doesn’t have to progress to a full-fledged clinical depression in order to be a genuine concern and there are things that can be done to help. Doctors can help people by exposing them to very bright lights (phototherapy) or using antidepressants, but there are some practical things all of us can do to help prevent or limit the effects of SAD. The mainstays are diet, exercise and outdoor activity.
“It’s usually the first step off the couch, away from the TV, and out the door that is the hardest,” says Dr. Lorrie Henderson, child and family expert who serves as Chief Operating Officer for KidsPeace. “Force yourself to make the effort — you and your family will be pleased with the results!”