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LVHN Health Tips: Don’t let the ‘winter blues’ get you down

Winter greets us with decreased sunlight and increased blues, resulting in seasonal affective disorder (SAD), more commonly known as seasonal depression or the “winter blues.”

While the holiday season often creates a cause for joy, this also can be a time of grief and reexperiencing loss. To help address the mixed emotions that arrive this time of year, we asked psychiatrist Dhana Ramasamy, MD, with Lehigh Valley Physician Group Adult and Pediatric Psychiatry, to discuss all things SAD.

Are the winter blues real?

“Winter blues and seasonal depression loosely define seasonal affective disorder,” Ramasamy says. “A milder version of SAD is known as the ‘winter blues.’ However, the full symptom of SAD goes further. SAD is a type of depression that is related to the seasons and occurs around the same time every year. These symptoms typically start in the fall and continue through the winter months. Unlike winter blues, SAD impacts your everyday life, including how you feel and think,” she says.

SAD is prevalent in about 3% of the general population and can occur in up to 15% of those with depression. Onset of SAD usually happens between ages 20 to 30. There is some evidence that it may be more common in northern latitudes.

Symptoms of SAD may include:

• Feeling depressed or extremely unhappy

• Struggling to find pleasure in things previously found enjoyable

• Changes in sleep habits

• Changes in appetite

• Low energy

What to do to help prevent SAD:

• Exercise regularly – at least 30 minutes per day, 3-4 days per week

• Eat a healthy diet

• Prioritize sleep

• Minimize alcohol consumption

• Reach out to loved ones, friends and family for support

• Socialize regularly to reduce loneliness

• Consider light therapy, including spending time outside during daylight hours

• For those managing grief, reexperiencing loss or when managing other mental health-related symptoms, our experts recommend setting appropriate boundaries to avoid overwhelming and potentially triggering events

Winter may have an impact on our health, but measures can be taken to minimize the impact.

How SAD can be treated

“For individuals experiencing ongoing SAD, especially if it might be transforming to depression, LVHN offers a variety of services including medication management, group therapy, support groups and our partial hospitalization programs,” Ramasamy says.

Many doctors and clinicians at LVHN recommend light therapy as an option for SAD. Light therapy consists of sitting in front of a specialized light for about 30 minutes each morning. The light shines toward your eyes and can help you feel awake and alert all day.

If you think you may have SAD or depression, help is available. “Start with your primary care doctor and ask about your symptoms,” Ramasamy says.

In addition to the care your doctor can provide, LVHN also offers a range of behavioral health services, including adult transitions partial hospitalization program and transcranial magnetic stimulation.

To schedule an appointment with a primary care physician, call 888-402-LVHN or visit LVHN.org/primarycare.

By Dr. Dhana Ramasamy