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SAD or Sad: Ways to Find HelpBy Susan Bush
12:00AM / Tuesday, December 12, 2006
It's the second full week of December and the early dusk means a merry kaleidoscope of twinkling holiday lights. The season brings shopping excursions, parties, family gatherings and workplace socials.
|Holiday blues can turn emotions upside-down. But help is available.|
All around are signs that others are enjoying the festivities.
Why aren't you?
Are you SAD or sad? And does it matter?
SAD is the acronym for a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, sometimes termed "winter depression."
The symptoms, which include a feeling of depression, loss of energy, and an increased desire to sleep, usually present during the fall months [as daylight hours decrease] and peak during the dreary winter months. SAD often disappears in the spring, when daylight increases and the weather becomes warmer and sunnier.
The seasonal aspect of the condition is a major distinction between it and a general depression, said Dr. Jennifer Michaels, a Berkshire Medical Center staff psychiatrist and the medical director for adults, families and addictions at the Brien Center.
The center is headquartered in Pittsfield and has offices in North Adams.
Those who live in New England may be more susceptible to SAD than those living in other climates, she said.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is more common among women.
"Living here, about 20 percent of people diagnosed with depression have a seasonal component [to the condition]," she said during an afternoon telephone interview."And some people have what is almost a hibernation syndrome. They may sleep too much, they may eat too much and gain weight. We often think of college students; they kind of check out for the winter, which can be detrimental to their education."
"Holiday blues" are different in that the triggers are often specific to the season, such as stress brought on by a frenzy of activity, high holiday expectations and a feeling that one must create a "perfect holiday," and other factors directly linked to holiday preparations.
Feelings of holiday sadness may be initiated by "firsts," such as the first holiday after a parent or spousal death, or as an "anniversary," as in "This is the sixth holiday since my mother died."
"It can be difficult to distinguish," Michaels said of the two conditions.
SAD may deliver an intense feeling of sadness or extreme apathy that doesn't cease, while holiday blues may appear when a person is in a stressful situation, for example, shopping in a crowded mall for a hard-to-find item. Feelings may ease during calmer moments, such as sipping hot chocolate while sitting on the couch.
"Holiday blues can come on with all the worries we have about what we have to get done, or we remember disappointing holidays," she said.
Holiday blues may be eased with a few simple strategies, Michaels said.
Simplicity Eases Stress
"Keep it simple," she said. "Keep the spirit simple, keep the goals simple. Instead of planning a big party, why not share a party, share the responsibility? Or why not have a small party?"
Michaels also encouraged talking with friends and asking for stress-busting suggestions.
If holiday sadness seems to recur, consider consulting a therapist on a short-term basis, she suggested.
"If these feelings are something that happen every year, and it is bothersome, why not see a therapist?" she said. "Why not see if it is something that can be resolved?"
Pressure To Put Out
Adult family members may feel financial pressure during the holidays. Parents may feel that they must spend large amounts of money on lavish gifts to create a "special" holiday for the children.
The marketplace may appreciate those feelings but those who feel the pressure likely do not.
"There can be undue pressure to put out and give out financially," she said.
Reduce spending and create family traditions that are not rooted in money, Michaels advised.
Activities such as family caroling, home-made gift crafts, family baking projects and other endeavors bring people together to share the season and can create lifetime memories.
And as an added bonus, homespun projects rarely require batteries.
Like general depression, SAD may have a genetic component, Michaels said.
Let it Shine
"Depression is an emotional illness that tends to run in families and affects women more," she said. "SAD often does have an autumnal onset, and antidepressant medications work well for some people. Other people respond well to light therapy. Some people use a combination of medication and light therapy."
The optimal light therapy involves using a full-spectrum light, Michaels said. The lights may be purchased via the Internet or in some medical supply stores. Light therapy seems to work best when the light is used in the morning, Michaels said.
Exposure to natural outdoor light for about an hour a day has been documented in medical studies to benefit those with SAD, but that action may prove very challenging for those who live in cold and often overcast climates.
People may plan ahead for a bout with SAD, Michaels said.
"If you have struggled with symptoms for two years in a row, you could have a plan in place," she said. "You may want to see a physician in September for medication or you may want to begin light therapy before symptoms begin."
Rx:Warm Days Catching Rays [Use Sunscreen!]
Most people who choose treatment do recognize a benefit, Michaels said, but for very stubborn instances of both holiday depression and SAD, the prescription may involve a passport.
"One recommendation is to literally take a vacation," Michaels said.
For those struggling with holiday blues a "vacation" could mean something as simple as changing the holiday routine, or arranging a special holiday trip. People may want to take a vacation from a hectic schedule and spend some down time at home.
For those with SAD, a vacation usually means packing up and traveling to a warmer, sunnier locale for some tangible relief from cloudy skies and cold temperatures, she said.
Anyone who feels recurring or consistent sadness should seek professional medical help.
Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-663-3384.
|Regarding light therapy - researchers have found that it's the blue part of the spectrum that is actually needed. (When it's cloudy, it's the absense of sky that affects SAD, not the sun itself.) Most standard lights have very little blue in their spectrum, but if you replace your house lights with GE Reveal bulbs (or some other bulb with the same sky-blue tint), you can get the same benefit as staring into a 10,000 lux full-spectrum light for 10-15 minutes... and you don't have to spend hundreds of dollars on a special lightbox, either. Don't get me wrong - lightboxes are nice and can be effective, but I have noticed some bad side-effects as well (like headaches from bumping into walls because of the big after-image burned into your retina).|
|from: ||on: 12-13 00:00:00-2006|