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URMC / Patients & Families / Health Matters / January 2014 / Beat the Blues: 5 Tips for Tackling SAD

Beat the Blues: 5 Tips for Tackling SAD

When it’s cold and drab outside, some people start feeling bad inside. This could be a sign of Seasonal Affective Disorder—or SAD. SAD is a mood disorder that commonly strikes during the winter months. In addition to feeling depressed, people experiencing SAD often feel sleepy during the daytime. Their appetites increase, and they crave carbohydrates. They tend to gain weight in the winter, and lose energy.
woman in winter
If you have some of these symptoms without any major mood changes, you might have a milder form of SAD called the “winter blues.”
Psychiatrist Michael Privitera offers five tips for coping if you suffer from SAD.
1. Seek natural light. Get as much natural light as possible. Take a walk around the neighborhood when you wake up. Find a winter sport that you can do outside. Sit near windows when you’re at home, at the office, in class, or even out to lunch.
2. Use artificial light. This could be as simple as putting a timer on your bedroom light, so it turns on before you wake up. Start by setting it 30 minutes ahead of your alarm. If that doesn’t work, gradually increase it to an hour or more. Even though your eyelids are closed, this might help you feel better. You can also try a commercial light box. These seem to be most effective in the morning, but some studies show they can help no matter what time it is. Don’t stare at the light, but make sure it’s facing you while you read, write, watch TV, or eat your breakfast. If you have an eye disease, like glaucoma or cataracts, make sure you see your ophthalmologist first and get clearance. Use a diffusing screen to filter out as much UV light as possible and follow manufacturer instructions.
3. Get a good night’s sleep. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on the weekends. A regular sleep schedule is important.
4. Take a vacation. If you dread winter every time it rolls around, plan ahead and book a flight to Florida. People who live in sunny, warm climates are less likely to get SAD than people living in places like New York. Even a short break from the winter weather might help you beat SAD.
5. Hormones or medication might help. Melatonin is sometimes prescribed to help boost the effectiveness of natural and artificial light therapies. Even low doses can significantly boost your mood. It’s important to follow the schedule recommended by your doctor, or it can make it hard for your body to know when it’s time to sleep. 
Various antidepressants might help too. Prozac, Zoloft, Wellbutrin, and Parnate are among the medications found to be effective in combating SAD. Again, these are often used along with light therapies.
Ask for Help
If your symptoms are severe, don’t try to solve this on your own. See a doctor or mental health professional, especially if you have any thoughts of suicide.
Your primary care doctor is a good place to start. For help finding a provider, click here
If you are having suicidal thoughts, it is a medical emergency. Get help right away. In the Rochester area, contact Lifeline at (585) 275-5151 or go straight to the emergency room.
Michael Privitera MS, MD
Michael R. Privitera, M.S., M.D., is professor of Psychiatry at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.

Lori Barrette | 1/27/2014

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