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Two Rivers community health nurse on the best treatment to combat seasonal affective disorder

Two Rivers community health nurse on the best treatment to combat seasonal affective disorder

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KEARNEY — As days get shorter and darker, some human moods do, too.

Just in time for the holidays, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) occurs in about 5% of the U.S. adult population every year. People feel hopeless, irritable and lose interest in activities. They gain weight. A few even have thoughts of death and suicide.

The cure: Light therapy, physical therapy and doing something nice for someone else.

“This may be a difficult winter to get through,” said Susan Puckett, the community health nurse at Two Rivers Public Health Department. “This is the same as COVID fatigue syndrome.”

Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression that usually starts in the late fall and early winter and goes away during the longer days of spring and summer.

Susan Puckett

Susan Puckett

Now, with the continued spread of COVID-19, managing symptoms may be more difficult. The worst months are typically January and February, Puckett said. It is more common in women, younger people and those living in the northeast part of the U.S. A person is more likely to have SAD if they or a family member have depression.

The exact causes of SAD are unknown, Puckett said. Researchers have found that people with SAD may have an imbalance of serotonin, a brain chemical that affects their mood. Their bodies also make too much melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep. They may need more vitamin D.

The main treatment for SAD is light therapy, which replaces the sunshine that is gone during fall and winter months. People with SAD often sit in front of a light therapy box for a brief period each day. The bright artificial light may help.

Others also need antidepressant medicines.

People who suffer from SAD should talk with a health care provider about taking vitamin D supplements or a prescribed antidepressant to increase serotonin.

In some cases, professional mental health treatment may be needed. It can be offered virtually. Services are available through private practitioners and health organizations. Therapists can help identify coping plans based on what is needed.

Other solutions may include outdoor exercise and having a daily routine with structure and consistency to lessen depression and offset anxiety and confusion. Ideas for curbing the seasonal winter blues are:

— Go for a walk on a sunny day, and pick a new route

— Take your dog for a walk

— Get takeout from a favorite restaurant

— Learn a new hobby; take an online class

— Call a friend or loved one or host a virtual gathering with family members

— Do something nice for someone else

— Talk to your doctor or faith leader if symptoms get worse or do not improve

The pandemic has caused abnormal stress for some who now work from home and maintain a schedule that is not their normal schedule. This can contribute to poor dietary and sleep patterns.

These individuals should try to maintain a sense of new normalcy, including a consistent bedtime and wake-up time. They should establish a routine for showering and dressing and eating meals at regular intervals. They should find an activity that can be done inside every day while practicing positive thinking.

“Remember, this situation is temporary and it will pass,” Puckett said.

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