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At a Glance: Seasonal Affective Disorder Feeling down this time of year?

Feeling a little post-holiday letdown? The winter blues? Not happy about the fact that spring break seems so far away?

This time of year, many people often don’t feel like themselves, and while they may attribute these emotions to a variety of factors, it could be seasonal depression. What exactly is seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD)? It’s a mood disorder that usually begins in fall or winter, when the days become shorter.

Some symptoms of SAD can include decreased energy, trouble concentrating, fatigue and the overwhelming urge to be alone, says Dr. Teodor T. Postolache, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Those affected can also face changes in appetite, sleeping patterns, or experience an “anxious” or empty mood. To be diagnosed with SAD, an individual must meet the criteria for major depression. The often-talked-about winter blues ‘is distinctly a milder form, but still could require treatment,” he says.

Without treatment, seasonal depression can span weeks, months and years even, Postolache explains. Common treatments include light therapy (phototherapy), medications and psychotherapy.

“From the practical point, there are treatments such as the antidepressant bupropion that may help prevent depressive episodes in people, as well as light treatments, which are light therapy boxes that mimic outdoor light,” Postolache says. “There are also individual therapy options specifically targeted toward winter-related depression.”

Other tips to combat SAD include exercising daily, meditation, enjoying the sunlight, getting a full night’s sleep and moderating intake of alcoholic beverages. Another way to prevent SAD? Head somewhere tropical, Postolache says.

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