Seasonal Affective Disorder

For most of us, the end of summer and arrival of winter is no big deal. However, for some people, too little sunshine is a major life crisis — one with its own diagnosis: seasonal affective disorder. Doctors now have a way to make sunshine anytime and anywhere, and some seasonal sufferers have found the light.

Winter in the Pacific Northwest means a lot of clouds and rain. For the last nine years, winter has signaled the beginning of trouble for Debi. “It was really hard to get motivated to do things, hard to communicate with people, hard to make phone calls and make connections with people,” she says.

Debi used to dread the onset of winter, to the point where she wanted to disappear and do nothing. “I remember it getting as severe as wanting just to go to sleep and not wake up,” says Debi.

Debi found her way to Dr. David, who diagnosed her condition as seasonal affective disorder. Simply put, it is a light deficiency problem — different than mild depression because it’s related to the seasons.

“Light is the main synchronizer of the body clock,” says Dr. Avery, a psychiatrist. “Light enters the eyes, hits the retina, and the retina has direct connections to the body clock in the hypothalamus.”

So in the winter months, to regulate the body clock, Debi sits in front of a light box in her home. Thirty minutes every day of medical sunshine. Dr. Avery says, “There’s a message going to the retina of the eyes. Giving a message that the sun has come up, and that’s a message that many of us do not get during the usual winter.”

Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include:

Sleeping more,
Eating more,
Gaining weight,
Craving carbohydrates,
And feeling lethargic.

“It’s made me able to function on an even keel,” Debi says about the light box. Not as good as the real thing, says Dr. Avery, but a good enough substitute until summer returns.

Dr. Avery says if you don’t have a light box, go outdoors anyway. Even a cloudy day offers light brighter than that of a well-lit office.

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