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Shorter days could trigger winter blues

Published: December 21, 2016 By: Kristen Sibbitt

Some people believe that seasonal affective disorder, often called the “winter blues,” is unlikely in Florida where winter temperatures hover around 65 degrees. However, Phyliss Taylor, MD, medical director of outpatient services for UF Health Psychiatry – Jacksonville, explained that the change in temperature has very little to do with SAD.

“Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that occurs around the same time every year,” Taylor said. “There are two types, and the most common type is fall onset usually starting when the days are getting shorter around September. You get the depressive symptoms lasting until the days get longer. We don’t think it has as much to do with the temperature or the weather as much as it does with the daylight hours. That seems to be the triggering factor.”

Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include increased sleep, increased appetite with carbohydrate cravings, increased weight, irritability, interpersonal or relationship difficulties and leaden paralysis (feeling weighed down in your arms and legs). SAD is a recurrence of depressive symptoms that occur around the same time each year, and it has to have occurred for at least two years.

There are number of treatments for SAD such as light therapy, anti-depressants and cognitive behavior therapy. “We prefer the light therapy because it really doesn’t have a lot of side effects,” Taylor said. “We have some studies that are legitimate scientific studies that show that light therapy is as effective as the anti-depressants, and there’s new information coming out that the cognitive behavior therapy is as effective as well.”

Cognitive behavior therapy is also used to help people identify negative thoughts and behaviors that may be causing depression. A component of CBT is behavioral activation, which encourages those with seasonal affective disorder to find enjoyable winter activities to engage in so they don’t isolate themselves and hibernate in their dark houses.

“Part of behavioral activation is actually getting outside and getting some of that early morning sun and doing some of the natural things like eating well and exercising,” Taylor said. She also recommends cognitive restructuring (confronting negative thoughts with reality based evidence) and relapse prevention (identify negative thoughts and behaviors and make a plan to cope) as methods of treating SAD.

If you are experiencing symptoms associated with seasonal affective disorder or depression, please visit UFHealthJax.org/psychiatry or call 904-244-0411 to schedule an appointment.


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