Q: I am so tired during the day and very irritable with my two children. I can’t concentrate. I’m gaining weight and crave carbohydrates. My children keep asking me why I seem so sad, and my husband has noticed the irritability as well. Usually this mood change happens to me in the winter. I just want to sleep and get away from my kids. Any ideas as to why this is happening?
A: What you are describing sounds very much like the winter blues or seasonal affective disorder (SAD), especially since your mood change occurs in winter and improves with the change in seasons. SAD is a treatable type of depression that is prevalent in northern climates where sunlight is minimal in winter. It usually begins around October and ends in April. Women are most susceptible, but SAD also affects men and children.
The good news is that treatment is relatively easy. It involves getting more light or light therapy. The theory is that light resets your biological clock and increases brain chemicals that alleviate depression. This does not mean you can sit anywhere there is light and feel better. Regular indoor lighting is not intense enough to be effective. You need a special type of light found in a light box designed for this kind of therapy. Some insurance companies will reimburse you for this cost.
Another option is to try something called dawn stimulation, a system of light that gradually wakes you before dawn. Also try getting 30 minutes of morning light by walking outside or sitting under a fluorescent or full spectrum light while working or watching TV.
Finally, do not confuse the symptoms of SAD with other conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure. See a doctor to be sure SAD is the cause of your problems. If you suffer from severe depression, consult a mental health professional. Light therapy will not hurt you but it may not help you either.
• Seasonal Affective Disorder for Dummies by Laura Smith and Charles Elliott (For Dummies, 2007).
• “Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): Definition” by Mayo Clinic staff — http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/seasonal-affective-disorder/DS00195
Linda Mintle, Ph.D., is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who has been in clinical practice for over 20 years. She is the author of 16 books, a national speaker, news contributor and Assistant Professor of Clinical Pediatrics, Department of Pediatrics, Eastern Virginia Medical School. For more about Dr. Linda, go to her Web site — www.drlindahelps.com.
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