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Beating Back The Winter Blues

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Seasonal Affective Disorder related image Photo: Getty Images

Are you someone who feels down as fall turns to winter and when it can be dark and gloomy til after breakfast and then again before dinner? You are not alone. Millions of Americans -- and especially women -- have what's called seasonal affective disorder or SAD.

It's a real condition if you find yourself in the dumps when daylight is in short supply and it happens year after year. You may also be unusually irritable and crave sweets and carbs. It's actually a subtype of depression. But not to worry. There are treatments that work.

Recently I interviewed two family doctors from Seattle about this: Dr. Pamela Sheffield, clinic chief, and Dr. Crystal Wong, family medicine physician, with the University of Washington Neighborhood Ravenna Clinic. As you might imagine in Seattle, they both said they have plenty of SAD patients. They also said there are a range of approaches people can talk to help beat back the winter blues.

Step one is get an accurate diagnosis, of course. Then you can try light therapy with 30 minutes a day in front of a commercially available light box. (Tanning booths do not qualify and raise your risk of skin cancer.) Beyond that there are diet changes and prescriptions for more exercise, not less. Lastly, antidepressant medications and counseling can help too.

To learn more about SAD, you can listen to my interview with these doctors on the Patient Power website at http://goo.gl/5KBWf or download it. There is also a dedicated section on EmpowHER with helpful information and articles about SAD at https://www.empowher.com/condition/seasonal-affective-disorder/

The bottom line is you don't have to dread this time of year fearing stress and despondency. Rather than feeling "blue," take the time to learn more about this very real condition and also consider a focused discussion with your doctor. That could have you soon back to being “in the pink.”

About the author: Andrew Schorr is a medical journalist, cancer survivor and founder of Patient Power, a one-of-a-kind company bringing in-depth information to patients with cancer and chronic illness. Audio and video programs, plus transcripts, help patients make informed decisions to support their health in partnership with their medical team.

Patient Power is at www.PatientPower.info and on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Schorr is also the author of “The Web Savvy Patient: An Insider's Guide to Navigating the Internet When Facing Medical Crisis" found at www.websavvypatient.com/


Interview, Pamela Sheffield, MD, Clinic chief, UW Neighborhood Ravenna Clinic , UW Medicine and Crystal Wong, MD, Family medicine physician, UW Neighborhood Ravenna Clinic, UW Medicine, Seattle, Washington, Recorded 12/19/2011, Online at

Reviewed December 20, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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