Winter blues see the light

February 7, 2012

(Medical Xpress) -- It happens every year — the shortened daylight hours of the winter months always seem to affect one’s mood. People of all ages can develop seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of clinical depression which occurs at a particular time of the year, usually during the fall and winter, and resolving by spring.

“Seasonal affective disorder appears to be triggered by alterations in the circadian rhythm (daily rhythms in hormone secretion and cellular function) due to reduced sunlight exposure,” says Eric Lenze, MD, professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, who specializes in the treatment of depression and anxiety disorders in older adults.

“About one in 20 people will develop seasonal affective disorder, with a higher rate in more northern climates.”

People with seasonal affective disorder may experience fatigue, feelings of sadness and anxiety, crying spells, irritability, trouble concentrating, body aches, loss of sex drive, poor sleep, decreased activity level and overeating.

Lenze says bright light therapy, sometimes called phototherapy, is the treatment of choice for seasonal affective disorder. Bright therapy is available in the form of fluorescent light boxes, which provide full-spectrum visible light at 10,000 lux (a measurement of light intensity). Less powerful light (2,500 – 5,000 lux) may be used as well.

Light therapy facts:

-- Positioning: Face should be about two feet from the light source. Staring in the light is not necessary.
-- Time: Thirty minutes per day (usually in the morning), more time for less powerful light source.
-- Onset of benefits: Three to seven days after starting light therapy.
-- Duration: Benefits will vanish after discontinuing use. Continue use until usual offset of symptoms.
-- Adverse side effects: Minimal. Patients with eye problems or a family history of retinal damage should consult their ophthalmologist. In any case, UV light should be avoided.
-- Non-response: Double exposure time; consider antidepressants and/or psychotherapy.

Antidepressant medications have also been found to be an effective treatment for seasonal affective disorder, particularly those from the serotonin selective reuptake inhibitor family, especially if symptoms are severe.

“Some who believe that they may be suffering from may actually be experiencing major depression or an anxiety disorder,” Lenze says. “Major depression and anxiety disorders are serious problems with significant distress, disability, disruption in interpersonal relationships and adverse health effects.

“With appropriate treatment using medications and psychotherapy, most individuals with clinical and anxiety disorders can achieve remission. Unfortunately, most people with these disorders do not seek treatment, or do not get adequate treatment,” he says.

Explore further: Winter holidays prime time for depression

Related Stories

Winter holidays prime time for depression

December 9, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- The music playing in the background as we do our Christmas shopping may tell us it’s "the most wonderful time of the year.” But it’s also prime time for depression, a UC Health psychiatrist ...

Study tests new treatments for the winter blues

January 19, 2012

If winter's long nights and cold weather have you feeling depressed, a new research study could lift your spirits. The study, lead by Janis Anderson, PH.D., an associate psychologist in the Brigham and Women's Hospital Department ...

Recommended for you

Repeating aloud to another person boosts recall

October 6, 2015

Repeating aloud boosts verbal memory, especially when you do it while addressing another person, says Professor Victor Boucher of the University of Montreal's Department of Linguistics and Translation. His findings are the ...

Men more likely to be seen as 'creative thinkers'

September 28, 2015

People tend to associate the ability to think creatively with stereotypical masculine qualities, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The findings ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.