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Fending Off Depression Symptoms in Winter

Try this winter game plan to ease symptoms of depression.
By
WebMD Feature

While some people look forward to the brisk days of fall and winter, anticipating family dinners and cozy nights by the fire, others dread the cooler temperatures and shorter days.

If history repeats, they know that the winter season will bring, like clockwork, worsening symptoms of depression.

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  • Up to 3% of the population in the U.S. may suffer from winter depression, which experts term seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.
  • Some of the 6.7% Americans who suffer depression year-round find that their symptoms get worse in winter.
  • And countless others have a less severe form, dubbed the "winter blues."

As the days grow shorter, people often find their moods grow darker. Other symptoms of depression may include:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Getting too much sleep
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Weight gain

Taking action early can help you fend off these winter depression symptoms. Experts believe that SAD stems from a body clock that's out of synch and is associated with the lack of natural sunlight.

Here’s a winter game plan to keep depression at bay, or lessen its effect, this season.

If You Suffer Winter Depression, Check In With Your Doctor

Start your "game plan" as soon as you notice the first symptoms of worsening depression, suggests Norman Rosenthal, MD, the leader of the research team that first identified SAD in 1984 and author of Winter Blues.

Checking in with your doctor is a good first step, he says. That way, you and your doctor can alter your treatment if you’re already being treated, or tailor a new treatment plan based on your needs.

Know Your Treatment Options for Depression in Winter

Several treatments have been shown to improve seasonal winter depression. Among them: light therapy, antidepressant medication, talk therapy, and the hormone melatonin.

"People need to mix and match and figure out what works for them," says Rosenthal, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. and a psychiatrist in private practice.

See the Light to Ease Winter Depression Symptoms

Light therapy might be as simple as getting up early and walking outside on a bright winter morning, Rosenthal tells WebMD. "You can also increase light in your home," he says "Make one room a sun room."

A technique called "dawn simulation" -- in which a light is programmed to turn on early in the morning in your bedroom -- can also help, Rosenthal says.

Light boxes are widely sold over the Internet and exposure to them can help. When buying one, get advice from your doctor and choose bigger ones -- one that is at least 1 foot by 1.5 feet, Rosenthal says. These larger boxes have more supporting research, he says.

Patients sit in front of the light boxes daily for a specified amount of time. "Using light in the morning for a half hour to an hour is very effective," says Stephen Josephson, PhD, a psychologist in New York City and associate professor at Cornell University Medical School and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York.

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