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Monday June 17, 2024

Savvy Living

Savvy Senior

How to Ease the Winter Blues

What can you tell me about seasonal affective disorder? Since I retired, I feel sad and tired during the winter months.

If you feel depressed during the winter but feel better in spring and summer, you may have seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a seasonal depression that affects approximately 5% of Americans. In most cases, SAD is related to the decreased amount of sunlight during the winter months. Reduced sunlight can disturb natural sleep-wake cycles and other circadian rhythms that affect the body. It also causes a drop in the brain chemical serotonin, which affects mood, while increasing the levels of melatonin, which can make you feel more tired and lethargic.

If you think you may have SAD, you should schedule an appointment with your health care provider to discuss your concerns. You may also take a SAD "self-assessment" test which is readily available online or provided by health organizations. While these self-assessment tests offer some insights, they are not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice. If you find that you have SAD, here are several treatment options and some non-prescription remedies that can help.

Light therapy: One possible treatment for SAD involves sitting in front of a specialized light therapy box for 20 to 30 minutes a day within the first hour of waking up in the morning. Light therapy mimics sunlight and affects brain chemicals linked to mood.

While you can buy a light box without a prescription, it is advisable to use it under the supervision of a health care provider and closely follow the manufacturer's guidelines. Most health insurance plans typically do not cover the cost.

Some light therapy lamps provide 10,000 lux of illumination, stronger than typical indoor lights. These lamps also offer a diffuser screen that filters out ultraviolet rays and projects downward from the eyes. To find the most suitable light therapy option for your needs, consult with your healthcare provider for recommendations or conduct online research.

Cognitive behavioral therapy: While SAD is considered a biological issue, identifying and changing thought and behavior patterns can also contribute to symptom relief. There are therapists you can seek who specialize in cognitive behavioral therapy and have experience in treating SAD. To locate a local therapist, you can ask your healthcare provider for a referral or search online for reputable therapists in your area.

Lifestyle remedies: Some other things you can do to help alleviate your SAD symptoms include making your environment sunnier and brighter. Open your blinds, sit closer to bright windows and go outside as much as you can. Even on cold or cloudy days, outdoor light can help, especially if you spend some time outside within two hours of getting up in the morning. Moderate exercise such as walking, swimming, yoga and tai chi can also help alleviate SAD symptoms, as can social activities.

If you sense that your symptoms extend beyond typical SAD, consult your healthcare provider to ensure it is not indicative of a more serious condition. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, do not hesitate to seek professional help or call the National Alliance on Mental Illness HelpLine at (800) 950-6264.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

Published December 15, 2023
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