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  October 16, 2000

Stave Off Symptoms of Seasonal Affective
Disorder with Simple Steps, Says Expert

For the estimated 25 million Americans who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, this is the eye of the storm: the disorder typically strikes between mid-October and early-December, when days become shorter. To minimize the impact of decreased sunlight on people who may be prone to SAD, a Health Center expert recommends a common-sense approach that works for most people.

"People who notice that they are experiencing a few of the symptoms of SAD can take steps to alleviate this problem," explains Andrew Winokur, a physician at the Health Center.

"For people with more severe symptoms that interfere with their lives and their happiness, we recommend seeking professional help," he says. "Professionals are familiar with studies that have repeatedly proven the effectiveness of treating this disorder with light therapy, and in some cases, anti-depressant medications." Medical professionals can also determine if an individual is experiencing a more serious illness or depression.

SAD is not a one-time experience, nor is it the same as depression. Rather, it is a collection of symptoms that recur at the same time year after year, Winokur says. Symptoms include:

  • the blues; feelings of sadness;

  • a decrease in physical activities, lethargy;

  • anxiety and irritability;

  • increased appetite, food cravings, and weight gain;

  • changes in sleep patterns, typically sleeping more and feeling less rested;

  • problems at work;

  • interpersonal problems;

  • muscle aches and pains.

For people experiencing some of these symptoms, Winokur recommends:

  • Learn more about SAD;

  • Increase your exposure to light, especially at the beginning and the end of the day. Try to exercise outdoors just after dawn and/or just before dusk.

  • If you can't exercise outside, be sure to exercise indoors every day. Walkers can retreat to malls, or join gyms, or use other indoor sports arenas like swimming pools or skating rinks.

  • Control weight; avoid overloading on carbohydrates that can lead to sluggishness.

  • Be mindful of regular sleep patterns; avoid over-sleeping.

  • Try to think positively.

To contact a professional at the Health Center, call (800) 535-6232.