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The Doctors on Seasonal Depression
The Doctors on Seasonal Depression: This week's HealthSmart column discusses Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. Learn steps you can take to ease symptoms.
Yep. It's cold. But go outside: Natural light will help you feel better. / Kathrin Ziegler / Getty Images

Long nights of winter can leave even the most positive people feeling cranky. But for about 5% of Americans, itís more serious: Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that most occurs in the winter. Symptoms include loss of energy, eating more and difficulty concentrating.

The cause of SAD is unknown, but darker days probably play a role. Reduced levels of natural sunlight can disrupt your bodyís internal clock, which can lead to depression. It also causes a drop in serotonin, a feel-good brain chemical. Severe cases may need antidepressant treatment. You canít prevent the disorder from developing, but you can ease the symptoms.

Consider light therapy. Exposure to bright light that mimics natural light is thought to affect mood-related brain chemicals and ease symptoms. It involves sitting in front of a special light box or wearing a cap-like lighted visor for about 30 minutes a day. Another therapy uses a ďdawn simulatorĒ that turns on early in the morning and gradually increases in brightness, allowing your body to wake up naturally. Light therapy can have minor side effects, such as eye strain and headaches, and it isnít recommended for people with skin sensitivity.

Go outside. Yes, even if itís cold and cloudy. Natural light is still good for you, and it can relieve your symptoms, especially if you head outdoors within two hours of waking up. At home, open the blinds and drapes to let in the light.

Eat right and exercise. Two health basics can help here, too: A well-balanced diet can improve energy levels, and regular physical activity works to boost your mood and ease stress and anxiety, which can aggravate SAD symptoms.

Spend time with friends. Make an effort to see people you enjoy, even when youíre down. Staying connected to your social circle and participating in your regular activities can offer great support during the winter months.

The Doctors is an Emmy Award-winning daytime talk show. Check local TV listings for air times.

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The Doctors

The Doctors is an Emmy-winning daytime TV show with pediatrician Jim Sears, OB-GYN Lisa Masterson, ER physician Travis Stork and plastic surgeon Andrew Ordon. Check for local listings.