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Surviving the Winter Blues

Fatigue, lethargy, low mood, lack of interest in usual activities…does this describe how you experience the winter season? Do you dread darkness this time of year and react by isolating yourself, just waiting for the first signs of spring when you start to feel like yourself once again? If this scenario sounds familiar, you may suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a condition that is more prevalent in the northern latitudes, where the days can be very short and sunlight limited. It's a common condition affecting approximately 10% of Americans and has finally been accepted by mainstream medicine. If you believe you may have SAD, you should see your physician to rule out something more serious. If it is determined that your condition is indeed SAD, the following tools have brought relief to sufferers of this depressive condition.

One thing that has been shown to be effective (and free!) is to get exercise outdoors for an hour daily. Even a cold and gloomy day will provide enough light to help relieve SAD symptoms, but you do need to get out in the early afternoon, when the sun is highest.

If the thought of battling the winter elements every day only causes you further depression, then consider trying a light box in your home. The light box replicates natural sunlight, and helps to balance melatonin and serotonin to improve mood. Northern Light Technologies offers several styles of light boxes with varying intensities to fit your personal lifestyle. When using phototherapy, you should start to notice a difference within a few days, but the key is to use it consistently to benefit from the cumulative effects.

Nutrients can also be helpful. Some research has suggested that there may be a connection between low vitamin D levels and depression, including SAD. Given the reports that low levels of vitamin D are more likely to be found in depressed patients, it may be wise to check if your levels are adequate, particularly in the winter months.

5-HTP, a precursor to serotonin, has demonstrated its ability to be converted to serotonin and help relieve depression and insomnia. The amino acid L-tyrosine has also been shown to be effective in relieving depression, both on its own and in combination with other therapies. B-vitamins, particularly B-6, B-12, and folic acid, have also had an excellent track record in helping to relieve depression.

References: J Nutr Health Aging. 1999; 3(1):5-7. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 1998 Feb;135 (4):319-23.

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