With the passing of the winter solstice on Friday, the darkest day of the year may be behind us, but the battle is just beginning for those who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
SAD is a form of major depressive disorder linked to shorter hours of daylight, said Dr. Sara Rochester, MD, a psychiatrist at Marietta Memorial Hospital.
"People start being more tired. They sleep more. Their mood goes down. They lose interest in things," said Rochester.
Those were some of the symptoms that Chris Heiskell, 23, of Marietta started to notice in junior high school.
"I do get tired," said Heiskell of the winter months. "It's not chronically bad, but it's harder to get out of bed."
One particularly rough winter, two years after he graduated high school, Heiskell experienced his worst symptoms.
- Between 4 to 6 percent of people in the United States suffer from seasonal affective disorder.
- Another 10 to 20 percent may experience a milder form of winter onset SAD.
- SAD is more common in women than in men.
- SAD usually manifests in people ages 20 and older.
- The farther someone is from the equator, the more likely he or she is to experience SAD.
"I got really, really bad that year and I've never been depressed before. There was no reason really for me to be depressed," he said.
So Heiskell decided to talk to a doctor. He told the doctor he usually starts feeling a bit blue when the leaves start changing color in the fall and perks up again in the spring.
That's not uncommon, said Rochester.
"It usually starts around October and lasts until about March," she said.
Heiskell's doctor told him he suffered from SAD and told him to keep a journal of his symptoms.
Though he did not like the journal idea, Heiskell has found his own ways to alleviate symptoms of the winter blues.
"I stay active. I actually exercise a lot more in winter than in the summer," he said.
When he is not being physically active, he has found it helps to simply keep his mind occupied.
"I play a lot of video games in the winter," he said.
Heiskell also tries to get as much sunshine as possible.
Rochester said that light therapy is one of the main treatments for the winter blues.
"Light boxes can be obtained through various companies. They can cost around $200 and sometime insurance pays for it," she said.
People typically sit near the light box and simply glance at it for about 30 minutes each morning, she said.
If a SAD sufferer can not access a light box, Rochester recommends they try to make little adjustments that will increase their exposure to sunlight.
"Keep the blinds open. Seek out areas of sunlight," she said.