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Discovering SAD
Excerpt from Chapter 1 of Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal's Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder (Revised Edition), Guilford Press, NY, 2006.

When the dark days of winter approach, do you feel lethargic and have difficulty waking up in the morning? Are you tempted to snack more on those holiday foods and find the pounds creep on even as you valiantly try to diet? Maybe you find it hard to focus at work or in your relationships, feel down in the dumps, or, worse, really depressed. If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you may be one of the millions of people who have problems with the changing seasons. One astonishing fact emerging from recent research is that most people in the northern United States and Europe experience seasonal changes in mood and behavior, also known as seasonality.

In its most marked form, seasonality can actually cause a great deal of distress and difficulty in functioning both at work and in one's personal life. An estimated 10 million Americans, or 6% of the population, are said to be suffering from seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, a condition now widely accepted by the medical community and the public at large. Another 14% of adult Americans are estimated to suffer from a lesser form of SAD, known as the winter blues. Though these people are not usually affected severely enough to seek medical attention, they nevertheless feel less cheerful, energetic, creative, and productive during the dark winter days than at other times of the year.…

Like bears, squirrels, and birds, humans have evolved under the sun. We incorporated into the machinery of our bodies the rhythms of night and day, of darkness and light, of cold and warmth, of scarcity and plenty. Over hundreds of thousands of years, the architecture of our bodies has been shaped by the seasons and we have developed mechanisms to deal with the regular changes that they bring. Sometimes, however, these mechanisms break down and cause us trouble.

In recent years, science and medical practice have caught up with language, culture, and the arts, and the medical importance of the seasons is now generally accepted. Signs of this are everywhere… For example, on January or February evenings … a blue-white light can be seen streaming through the blinds and shutters of some of the homes in neighborhoods throughout the North, penetrating the inky darkness of the winter night. …Thousands of people across the country are sitting in front of light boxes, specially made fixtures that emit far more light than is ordinarily available indoors, to treat their symptoms of SAD or its milder variant, the winter blues. Such boxes are springing up in offices as well, as many people, unabashed by their hibernating status, are treating their symptoms while at work.

But it is not only those who suffer badly as a result of the changing seasons who are becoming more cognizant of the importance of light. Having an office with a window has taken on new importance as workers, who always wanted a view, now realize that there are medical and psychological benefits to having access to natural light. The "energy-efficient" buildings with tinted-glass windows, constructed in earlier decades, are now regarded with displeasure by many workers who labor in the unnatural glow of the light transmitted through the yellow panes….

In this book, I describe in detail how light can be used therapeutically, as well as the many other ways of treating SAD or the winter blues. I must emphasize, though, that depression can be a serious illness: painful, debilitating, and, in some cases, even fatal. While identifying depression and taking steps to combat it are an invaluable first step, if this step does not take care of the problem, a professional should be consulted sooner rather than later.… Along with specific suggestions for ways to recognize SAD or the winter blues and help oneself with these problems, I also direct the reader to various resources for additional help.

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