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Surviving the winter blahs

Ways to manage Seasonal Affective Disorder

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POSTED November 29, 2012 8:50 p.m.

The winter blahs, the winter blues, seasonal depression, Prozac weather.

It has many names, but Seasonal Affective Disorder – the down feeling that stems from a lack of sunlight – affects as many as 1-in-10 people and could be an early indicator for major depression, according to experts.

But just because you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning and find that it’s taking more energy than usual to execute normal daily tasks doesn’t mean that you have to let it become something that takes over your life.

According to Manteca-based Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Richard Salisbury, the seasonal issues that creep up in some people could be two-fold – the standard lack of sunlight issue coupled with a myriad of personal issues that leaves a person feeling lonely or left out during the holidays.

While Seasonal Affective Disorder can be managed with special lights, Salisbury said, the underlying issues that lead to loneliness – while easy to identify – can be very difficult to rectify.

“You’re talking about people that are alone, that have difficult family relationships, that have gone through a divorce or a recent loss,” he said. “A lot of people have happy memories from childhood when they remember their family being together, but that’s not there for everybody.

“Personally I have four kids and am divorced and have since remarried, and all of my kids live long distances away from me. And we were kind of going through it this season – feeling left out and lonely and wondering what things were going to be like at Christmas if we couldn’t be with them. Fortunately my sister and nephew came up from Phoenix, but it’s something that can affect anybody.”

Staring at your iPad or smartphone late at night might only exacerbate the problem, according to LMFT Rebecca Robbins.

Energy-efficient devices that emit “blue light” – computer screens, tablets, smartphones and even some household light bulbs – have been linked to disrupting sleep cycles when they’re utilized close to bedtime or during the middle of the night.

Earlier this summer the American Medical Association issued a policy stating as much, and Robbins believes that the disruption of the normal circadian sleep-cycle will only add to the factors that are already at play – whether it’s legitimate depression or a seasonal disorder that can be managed.

“There is a light box that people can use that is much brighter than a normal lamp that is known to help,” Robbins said. “Some people use anti-depressants, and it works for them, but that’s more of a Band-Aid kind of fix.

“What they need is light – sitting close to windows or getting outside when it’s clear – to get back onto that normal circadian rhythm.”

And where you live will inevitably come into play.

Florida has the lowest incidence of diagnoses while perennially overcast places like Seattle are famously and sarcastically known for their residents with a dreary outlook.

Those that are predisposed to depression, Robbins said, are more likely to show symptoms when they move to a place where the weather doesn’t cooperate with sunlight – be it the rainy days of Seattle or the harsh winters of North Dakota.

“We sort of have a joke that it’s Prozac weather up there,” she said. “So many people who move up there aren’t used to it. And those who live there and can’t leave tend to go the medication route thinking that’s going to help.

“That’s not always the case.”

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