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"Cabin Fever" Beating Those Wintertime Blues

Feb 10, 2008
"The Winter Blues" do you have them? Does a friend of relative have them? People who do this malady can be said to suffer the same lethargic feeling that we all get in the cold, cold, winter but on a much larger , greater , scale. True when it's really cold most of us want to stay inside, even and under covers and in effect put in time till warmer spring returns. Yet the real sufferers of "Seasonal Affective Disorder' more commonly known as "SAD" or simply "The Winter Blues" suffer real feelings of depression, hopelessness, anxiety, social withdrawal from loved ones and even life, oversleeping often coupled with a loss of interest in activities , an increased craving for sweets and starchy foods. You may notice as well that during the coldest, darkest portions of winter, when the daylight hours are very short and nights long, that the person has great difficulty concentrating and processing information.

What causes this malady that seems to run with the seasons and what can be done about it? One of the most agreed upon causes of SAD is that it revolves around a person's circadian rhythm. Essentially since the beginning of time a person's internal clock is set by the earth and its seasons. The circadian rhythm is what regulates the body's internal clock. In this case the lack of sunlight in winter, combined with lower temperatures is thought to in essence disrupt the body's natural clock and trigger the best to slow down. The person gets let active and in these cases they actually can exhibit standard and common symptoms of depression.

The neurotransmitter chemical is the brain "melatonin" is yet another factor in this puzzle. Melatonin is a standard chemical in our brains. Melatonin has been tied to the regulation of sleep as well as depression. In the winter time the body somehow bumps up its production of Melatonin. The problems occurs that at the same time the body slows down the production and release of the one other chemical neurotransmitter that might help the person out of their doldrums - serotonin. Low levels of serotonin are routine initiators of depression. Indeed the role of the commonly used antidepressant family the SSRIs (Prozac, Effexor, Zoloft, Paxil etc etc) is to raise the amount of serotonin in the brain. The problem here is the double wallop at the same time - Serotonin going down and Melatonin levels going up.

What can be done?

First of all light treatment or "light therapy" is perhaps the most widely known and useful form of treatment and help. In specially designed rooms, "boxes" or with visors the SAD sufferer is provided with bright light of the correct necessary type. Similar to the light of an outdoor environment the SAD sufferers usually sit for duration of between 30 minutes to an hour. It is said that morning times can be the best time of day for this therapy to be given. Overall treatment success is said to be in the range of 60 - 70 % with minimal side effects. Interestingly the light in the cold outdoors is similarly beneficial. The person could take a longer walk outside. This will definitely help. However it may be difficult to initiate this exercise - both because the person is already depressed and it is "very very cold outside". So it is hard to get enough time of sunlight in with the cold winter weather.

In addition some people also benefit from antidepressant therapy or other medications used to treat depression and depression like symptoms. The FDA has approved the use of the pharmaceutical medication Wellbutrin for those with a history of Seasonal Affective Disorder. It is best to contact your doctor in this regard. It is most important for SAD patients to be treated by their doctor in these cases.

Lastly take care to eat well. Eat a well balanced diet. With "cabin fever" and the feeling of being trapped in our homes by the extreme cold weather many will take out their frustrations by "eating for comfort". If yourself , a friend or family member suffers the "Winter Blues " of SAD seek help - light therapy , exercise , exercise and walking outdoors have all been shown to be helpful. And remember spring is just around the corner.
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