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The Telegram
  • Feeling tired, cranky or SAD in winter?

  • The possible reasons you might be feeling this way and how the "winter blues" can be treated. SAD is most likely to start in the autumn or early winter months.

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  • If you have ever experienced changes in your mood or excessive fatigue during the winter months, you are not alone. Jill Koester, L.C.P.C., R.N., a medical services administrator and licensed psychotherapist in the Department of Psychiatry at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, provides the possible reasons you might be feeling this way and how the "winter blues" can be treated.
    Seasonal changes in mood and energy levels are observed in climates that have significant temperature and natural light level changes.
    Mild symptoms may include decreased energy, increased sleep, irritability and increased eating, especially an increased craving for carbohydrates and subsequent weight gain. Many individuals experience some mild changes without significant distress.
    When these symptoms create significant difficulties in a person's ability to function, this may be a sign that a person may be suffering from a depressive disorder that is seasonal in nature. This condition, commonly known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is most likely to start in the autumn or early winter months and last into the spring or summer months. It is suspected that changes in amount of sunlight may decrease the level of serotonin in the brain.
    More females report mood changes with seasonal patterns than males. These seasonal changes can be experienced by individuals already diagnosed with a depressive disorder. A pattern of two of more years of these changes without the presence of other significant indications, such as an exacerbation of medical illness or seasonal employment change, means you should discuss your symptoms with a healthcare professional.
    If you notice some of these mild seasonal mood changes, there are some steps that can be taken to alleviate them or ward off some of the negative effects.
    1. Get some sun:Aim for 10-30 minutes of sunlight each day, preferably morning sunlight can help.  Take a walk outside in the morning or make a conscious effort to get out of the office at lunchtime to expose your eyes to more natural light. The cold temperature can keep people from wanting to step outside, but being aware of a soothing need for sunlight can help you make the effort. If this isn't possible, light therapy lamps are sold to mimic the brightness of natural light for this purpose. These come with recommended times for exposure.
    2. Get some exercise:Moving is important to keep the body's energy level up and will help decrease weight gain and lethargy during the winter months. If you exercise outdoors during the summer months, try to switch to an equal amount of physical activity indoors so you continue getting exercise. A gym or health club can be a perfect place for winter exercise and can get you out of the house.
    Page 2 of 2 - 3.Get out: A tendency to isolate when the days become short and the weather is cold can lead to decreased interaction with friends, family and neighbors.  Track your activities and keep a schedule of what you want to do. If you notice you are isolating yourself, take steps to increase interaction with others. It may be a perfect time to join a new group or participate in a new activity.
    4.Get proper nutrition: Keep in mind what you need for a well-rounded diet, including plenty of water, which keeps you feeling your best. Recognize patterns of increased eating, especially "comfort" foods. Tracking what you eat each day can help you determine whether or not you are getting enough of all food groups and avoiding empty calories.
    5. Get up:Often people need more sleep than they are getting. But if you seem to be sleeping too much, you may want to set an alarm on the weekend to avoid oversleeping or find alternatives to napping.
    6. Get help:If the symptoms persist and are distressing to you, notify your physician. Treatment for depressive disorders can help and may be needed. Depression can be a very serious condition, which frequently requires medication, psychotherapy or both in order to stabilize symptoms.
    If you've recognized problems in the past and want to be proactive to avoid problems this year, you can start by journaling –– write and rate (on a scale of 0-10) your mood and behaviors each day. Be very mindful of what you are doing and how you feel. Tracking your daily energy level, exercise, diet, sun exposure and mood in a journal gives you a clear picture of each day. Evaluation of entries at the end of each week guides your progress.
    Jill Koester, L.C.P.C., R.N., is a medical services administrator and licensed psychotherapist in the Department of Psychiatry at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Springfield.
    Online information:
    SIU School of Medicine: Department of Psychiatry.
    National Institutes of Health: More information on seasonal affective disorder.
    American Academy of Family Physicians: A breakdown on what is seasonal affective disorder.
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