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Don't be SAD

Posted: Thursday, November 26, 2009

The following editorial first appeared in the Ketchikan Daily News:

Bears have figured out the best way to get through an Alaska winter. After gorging themselves all summer, they squeeze their well-insulated bodies into a cozy den and snooze until spring.

Unfortunately, humans can't hibernate, although many of us are tempted to do just that once fall really hits. Nearly everyone gets increasingly lethargic as the daylight decreases. All we want to do is sleep and eat. With a little perseverance, most of us can get over that urge, and once we've adapted to the change of season, we can enjoy winter almost as much as we love summer.

For others, though, the transition is much more difficult. They suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, also called winter depression. Depending on the severity of the affliction, people with SAD don't get just a little tired and cranky, they have all the symptoms of clinical depression.

The medical cause of SAD is not known, but there are some reasonable theories, according to the Mayo Clinic. The sudden loss of daylight can confuse our internal clocks, disrupt the balance of the sleep and mood hormone melatonin, and reduce levels of seratonin, a brain chemical that also affects mood.

SAD can be a serious affliction, leading to school or work problems, substance abuse, withdrawal from society and suicidal thoughts or behavior. People who suffer from SAD should talk with an expert - a medical doctor or mental health practitioner - about treatment options.

Treatments can include light therapy and prescription antidepressants. Other ways to combat the winter blues - whether or not it's SAD - include opening window blinds and trimming tree branches to let as much light as possible indoors, and going outside, even if the weather is less than inviting. Studies show that spending time outside, especially in the morning soon after waking, can help lift spirits during the winter.

Another key ingredient is to maintain regular exercise. Don't give in and become a cold-weather couch potato! Working out relieves stress, releases feel-good hormones - something we all can use no matter what the weather is - and helps counteract extra calories from all those holiday treats people keep bringing to the office.

Interesting to note: An alternative therapy mentioned by the Mayo Clinic is to ingest omega-3 fatty acids, found in cold-water seafood such as wild Alaska salmon. Our own backyard, so to speak, provides a potential cure for a malady that's prevalent in this part of the globe.

Other therapies for mild SAD symptoms include yoga, meditation, therapeutic massage, herbal supplements, eating healthy, staying social even if we think we don't want to, and taking a mid-winter trip to somewhere warm and sunny.

With a little effort, though, and perhaps some medical intervention, we all can fully enjoy the upcoming holiday season while we look forward to summer of 2010.



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