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SAD is Seasonal Affective Disorder

With the onset of colder weather comes shorter, darker and gloomier days, and some people find that their mood follows suit. While this is commonly referred to as the 'winter blues', it's technically defined as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. A most fitting acronym if there ever was one.

SADA (the Seasonal Affective Disorder Association) estimates that around 500,000 people suffer from SAD every winter, with December, January and February being the worst months.

The lack of sunshine seems to initiate a chemical imbalance in the hypothalamus of the brain, which then triggers SAD. There's research that suggests that it's a lack of the brain chemical serotonin which then causes the symptoms of depression, while other research points to the involvement of the sleep-related hormone melatonin. While the precise chemical changes that take place are still not totally understood, symptoms should not be taken lightly.

Here are some of the possible signs of SAD, assuming occurance during the fall and/or winter months:

1. Feelings of depression.

2. Feelings of fatigue or difficulty maintaining one's normal routine.

3. Sleep pattern changes such as difficulty staying awake, oversleeping, or early morning wakening or disturbed sleep.

4. Low stress tolerance, tension and irritability.

5. Cravings for sweet and/or starchy foods.

6. Finally, a disappearance of symptoms of depression during the warmer months.

For severe cases of SAD, treatment may include prescription antidepressants. However, if you prefer more natural remedies that carry no risk of side effects, bright light therapy, also known as phototherapy, has proven effective in 85 percent of cases, according to SADA. Regular indoor lighting is not sufficiently bright to affect SAD - special full spectrum lighting that's as much as ten times brighter than regular household lighting is required.

And, when the sun peeks out from behind gray clouds in the dead of winter, try your best to get out and soak up its healing rays. Combining that with a healthy diet and a consistent exercise program may make the winter blues a distant memory.

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