The Winter Blues – Seasonal Affective Disorders (SAD)

As the temperature drops and New York’s snowbirds take flight, those of us staying in the city can expect a colder, snowier Winter.

The Winter Blues - Seasonal Affective Disorders

In preparation for the coming cold, the staff of SelectCare Home Health Services wanted to cover a winter-specific healthcare challenge that doctors are only now beginning to fully understand: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

SAD, colloquially known as “the winter blues” and classified as a subtype of major depression, is believed to be a product of reduced sunlight exposure and physical activity throwing off our internal clock, as well as lowering our body’s concentration of serotonin and melatonin, important chemicals that help regulate our moods.

These three changes can result in the following symptoms:

–        Loss of appetite.

–        Changes in sleep patterns, especially oversleeping.

–        Low energy, irritability, and feelings of sadness for several days or weeks at a time.

–        The recurrence of these symptoms during a specific time of year for at least two years.

These symptoms are particularly dangerous for older people affected by SAD, as they can contribute to lowering one’s natural defenses against seasonal illnesses like influenza. Additionally, if a SAD sufferer is already taking prescription medication, commonly-prescribed antidepressants might not be a viable solution.

Fortunately, doctors now have an alternative to antidepressants in the form of light therapy – a process in which the patient sits in front of a small light box, which replicates the same wavelengths as natural sunlight, for about 15 to 30 minutes a day. A trial published in 2006 by the American Journal of Psychiatry found that light therapy had a comparable success rate as fluoxetine-based antidepressants like Prozac or Sarafem.

Even if you or a loved one do not suffer from SAD, a little bit of sunshine in the winter does not hurt. To keep your spirits (and melatonin levels) up, try the following:

–        Spend a little time every day outside, especially within two hours of waking up.

–        Sit near bright windows at home or at work to make the most out of each day’s sunlight.

–        Stay active! Regular exercise helps maintain a healthy sleep pattern and improves your immune system.

If you are concerned that a loved one is susceptible to SAD or other winter-related hazards, do not hesitate to call SelectCare for a free in-home health assessment. Our staff has spent 30 winters helping New Yorkers stay healthy and active, through in-home exercise and escorts around town.