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Fending Off Depression Symptoms in Winter

Try this winter game plan to ease symptoms of depression.

See the Light to Ease Winter Depression Symptoms continued...

Getting bright light in the morning is best, says Al Lewy, MD, PHD, a professor of psychiatry at Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, a veteran researcher in the field.

Best time and amount? "As soon as you wake up, for at least a half hour," Lewy says. There is a subgroup of patients, however, who may do better with bright light in the evening. It's trial and error, he says.

Light therapy and dawn simulation together produce results equal to that given by antidepressants, according to a team of researchers from the University of North Carolina, who reviewed the results of 13 published studies and reported the findings in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Consider Melatonin to Help Your Body Clock

In his research, Lewy has also found that most people with seasonal winter depression respond best not only to bright light exposure in the morning but also to a low dose of the hormone melatonin in the afternoon to reset their body clocks to normal.

The melatonin dose and timing should be calculated by a doctor familiar with the research. Lewy has found that about 29% of patients do better taking the melatonin in the morning instead of the afternoon.

Consider a Treatment Tune-Up

If you've got a history of diagnosed Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), re-evaluate your depression treatment this year. "Ask your doctor if you need more medication or more talk therapy," Rosenthal says.

Sometimes, increasing your antidepressant dose in early October, through March or so, helps, says Alan Gelenberg, MD, a professor emeritus of psychiatry at the University of Arizona, Tucson, and a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin Madison.

For some people with winter depression, getting more therapy during colder months can help, too, Gelenberg says. "If they do better coming in once or twice a week, fine," he says. But "for a lot of people that's not the case."

Instead, he sometimes focuses during therapy on providing a patient a set of tools to use when mood declines. The goal: Help people with depression recognize when their mood is becoming low and take action by reaching out to friends.

Another useful depression strategy: do more "homework" between your formal therapy sessions, suggests Josephson. He advises patients to keep a mood log. Journals or logs help people identify moods and their reactions to situations. This understanding, in turn, helps people with depression evaluate and replace negative thoughts.

He also advises patients to stop "ruminating" -- going over and over a perceived shortcoming in their mind. He cautions them to replace negative thoughts, such as "The party will be bad," or "People think poorly of me" with more positive ones.

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