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E M OT I ON A L H E A LT H Strategies to Address the Winter Blues For many people, it’s a familiar refrain: The days get shorter, the sun goes into hiding and as fall turns to winter, they slip into a funk. But if your depressed mood is as predictable as the changing of the seasons, it shouldn’t be ignored. “What was always just considered the wintertime blues is now understood to, in some cases, have a biological explanation,” says Saralyn Masselink, LCSW, lead therapist for UCLA Behavioral Health Associates. “Many people just assume this is something they have to accept, but it can be effectively addressed.” “What was always just considered “In Southern California, where we get more sunshine, seasonal affective disorder is less common,” says Kelly Kang, MD, a psychiatrist with UCLA Behavioral Health Associates. “As a result, people here who experience depression symptoms at the same time every year might be less inclined to think of this as the cause.” the wintertime blues is now understood to, in some cases, have a biological explanation. Many people just assume this is something they have to accept, but it can be effectively addressed.” UCLAHEALTH.ORG 1-800-UCLA-MD1 (1-800-825-2631) Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression related to seasonal change — most commonly beginning in the late fall and early winter, then lifting in the spring and summer. The symptoms tend to be similar to those of non-seasonal depression, but tied to reduced sunlight exposure. It is most common in the northern regions of the country, where the greater distance from the equator means shorter days during the winter months. As with all types of depression, seasonal affective disorder can be addressed through medication and psychotherapy, Dr. Kang notes. But an additional approach that can be effective involves light therapy — the use of a special box that mimics natural outdoor light, which can provide the boost to the brain’s biochemistry that it misses from the lack of sunshine. Whether one or more of these approaches is recommended typically depends on the severity of the symptoms. Masselink points to other strategies that can be helpful, including getting outside as much as possible during the day, opening blinds and sitting near windows emitting natural light, and engaging in regular exercise. “The bottom line is that people noticing a consistent pattern of depressed mood hitting at the same time of year should talk to their primary-care physician about seeing a mental-health professional,” she says. “It’s important to understand what’s happening and whether or not you might benefit from treatment.”