Carla Portigal demonstrates the use of a full spectrum light for treating Seasonal Affective Disorder at the Steamboat Mental Health offices Friday afternoon.

Photo by Brian Ray

Carla Portigal demonstrates the use of a full spectrum light for treating Seasonal Affective Disorder at the Steamboat Mental Health offices Friday afternoon.

Look at the bright side

Fighting Seasonal Affective Disorder

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Don't be S.A.D.

Notice the signs and practice prevention for Seasonal Affective Disorder

Symptoms: Signs of S.A.D. can include depression, hopelessness, anxiety, loss of energy, social withdrawal, oversleeping, cravings for carbohydrates, weight gain and/or difficulty concentrating.

Causes: A reduced level of sunshine might disrupt the circadian rhythm, or natural internal clock. Long winter nights could contribute to an increased level of melatonin, a sleep-related hormone that has been linked to depression. Reduced sunlight might also cause a drop in serotonin, a natural brain chemical that affects mood.

Treatments: Light therapy (being exposed to very bright light while sitting close to a light therapy box). Antidepressants, psychotherapy or cognitive behavioral therapy also may be prescribed.

Prevention and coping: You need light. So make your home brighter or get outdoors on sunny days by taking long walks (or hitting the mountain). Exercise regularly and get enough restorative sleep. Eat a balanced diet, taking care to avoid carbohydrate cravings or overindulging in alcohol. Manage your stress and socialize.

For more information, visit www.steamboatcoun...>

- Information compiled from www.mayoclinic.co...>

— The National Weather Service has sun in its forecast for today - the first time that's happened so far this month.

Based on data that classifies daily weather conditions as fair, partly cloudy or cloudy, the service recorded two fair days in December and six fair days in January.

The lack of sunlight leaves Routt County residents especially vulnerable to wintertime woes, which in severe form can become a medical condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder.

"It's a form of depression that sets in on people who are affected by the lack of sunlight," said Tom Gangel, director of Steamboat Mental Health.

"It's just worse this year for us, since the sun has left us," he said.

Gangel said many of those who suffer from S.A.D. are predisposed to depression and might be more likely to move to areas of the country that usually are sunny - i.e. Colorado - to avoid seasonal symptoms. When that sun goes away, certain behaviors can set in, such as oversleeping, social withdrawal, change in appetite or a lack of energy.

"I think some of these people tend to have S.A.D. in their code. Then when you get a winter like we're having when you never see the sun, it affects them more," Gangel said.

While the symptoms of S.A.D. are similar to clinical depression, Gangel said there is a distinction.

"I don't want to overstate it - they don't feel horribly hopeless," he said.

The best treatment for sunlight deficiency is to absorb more light, whether it's real or artificial, Gangel said. Steamboat Mental Health has a light therapy lamp it rents out and sets up during office hours - Gangel said this winter has been dreary enough that he has considered turning the lamp on for anyone who wants to use it.

"Basically you get brain and chemistry changes due to not having as much sunlight. It has to go into your eyes, so you have to spend some time actually in the sunlight," Gangel said.

Exercising daily, eating a balanced diet and avoiding depressants such as alcohol also are recommended to curb S.A.D.'s most noticeable characteristic, which Gangel described as "people that are just kind of out there feeling a little worse."

"People always get a little bit surly around this time of year anyway. But (S.A.D.) might account for people feeling a little bit worse than they might on a typical snowy winter," he said.

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