SATURDAY, Jan. 28, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- For some people a change in the seasons can trigger a loss of energy or even clinical depression, according to an expert who describes how to cope with seasonal affective disorder.
The condition is caused by changes in ambient light, said Dr. Dan Iosifescu, director of the Mount Sinai Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program in New York City.
"A gland in our brain provides a time signal, based on the amount of ambient light, to various parts of the body. Like a metronome, the gland responds to signals from light and uses those cues to orchestrate the day/night cycle," he said in a Mt. Sinai news release. "Ambient light helps our brain determine when our bodies need to be active mentally and physically and when our bodies need to rest. That cycle is thrown off when the days get shorter and darker."
Iosifescu offered the following tips to help people overcome the winter blues:
- Use extra lights. Turn on all the lights to help you wake up in the morning. In more severe cases of depression, a light therapy box, which simulates natural light, can be used for 30 minutes each day. Taking a walk outside on a particularly sunny day can also help.
- Exercise. Working out can help ease depression and improve people's moods. Get a minimum of 30 minutes of vigorous exercise, at least three times each week.
- Stick to a routine. Don't oversleep or avoid the outdoors because it's cold outside. It's important to maintain your normal sleep schedule and continue to make plans and try new activities.
- Consider supplements. Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids can help battle depression, Iosifescu said. Other over-the-counter remedies such as St. John's wort may also have antidepressant effects.
- Talk to your doctor. Seasonal affective disorder could be confused with a more serious case of depression. Visit your doctor if you have symptoms that are severe and persist for more than a few weeks.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine provides more information on seasonal affective disorder.