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The Doctors talk about seasonal affective disorder
The Doctors talk about seasonal affective disorder: Lots of people get a touch of the winter blues, but for some, the mood changes are way beyond a seasonal funk.
Seasonal affected disorder can be treated. / Westend61/Getty Images

Lots of people get a touch of the winter blues, but for some, the mood changes are way beyond a seasonal funk. They get super-cranky and anxious, feel exhausted and sleepy all the time; they eat more sweets, can't concentrate and stop hanging out with friends — all signs of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or winter depression.

Up to 20% of Americans experience some form of winter-onset SAD (more women do than men), and the condition afflicts more people who live in the northern part of the country. That makes sense, of course, because winter days in the North are shorter than in the South, and though the exact cause of SAD is unknown, experts believe it is linked to light, or the lack of it. Less sunlight messes with our body's internal clock, which disrupts our natural sleep-wake cycles and can lead to feelings of depression. Also, when days are shorter and darker, the body produces more melatonin (a sleep hormone that has been linked to depression) and less serotonin (a feel-good chemical).

Here's a look at the treatments that work:

Light therapy. Whether you sit in front of a specialized light box or wear a light visor, the intent is the same: to expose you to about 30 minutes of bright light every day. It mimics natural outdoor light and appears to affect mood-related chemicals in your brain, which eases symptoms. Another kind of light therapy is a "dawn simulation," which turns on a light in your bedroom early in the morning and gradually increases brightness (kind of like a sunrise) to allow your body to "wake up" naturally.

Talk therapy. In some studies, cognitive behavioral therapy (or talk therapy) was found to be more effective than light therapy for the long-term treatment of SAD.

Medications. If your case of SAD is severe, your doctor may prescribe an antidepressant — and suggest you start taking it before your symptoms typically start each year. It may take several weeks to feel the full effects of the medication.

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