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The Biomedical Engineering blog is the place for conversation and discussion about topics related to engineering principles of the medical field. Here, you'll find everything from discussions about emerging medical technologies to advances in medical research. The blog's owner, Chelsey H, is a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) with a degree in Biomedical Engineering.

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Winter Blues

Posted March 06, 2015 12:00 AM by Chelsey H

It's no secret that this was a rough winter for the Northeast and I am very tired of talking about the weather. With March approaching there is hope for warm weather (and mud!) but not before we all still face the winter blues.

This winter has affected my mood more than previous winters. A condition called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD is a type of depression which manifests as sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings, feelings of hopelessness, guilt, restlessness, and irritability. It can also lead to loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed, fatigue or decreased energy, difficulty sleeping or oversleeping, and changes in weight.

The specific causes of SAD are unknown but researchers have been able to link several factors to the disorder. One reason is the lack of sunlight. Winter sunrise is later and winter nights are longer. This can cause melatonin, the hormone regulating sleep and wake cycles, to overshoot into the day leading to grogginess for several hours. Serotonin is one of the many brain chemicals that affect mood and also varies seasonally. Lower levels are common in the winter.

So how can you beat winter blues?

Light therapy is a common and inexpensive treatment. You sit a few feet from a specially designed bright light, which mimics outdoor light. It's not a proven form of therapy but it does appear to cause a change in brain chemicals linked to mood. It also has been shown to result in headaches, mild nausea, and trouble sleeping.

Antidepressants are recommended for severe symptoms and may take a few weeks to fully kick in.

Psychotherapy is a more natural route. It can help you identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors that may be making you feel worse, learn healthy ways to cope with SAD, and how to better manage stress.

Prevention is the best medicine.

Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best. Going for a walk, even in the cold, can help to get enough light exposure - especially if it's within the first few hours of waking up. Of course, working out can help decrease stress and anxiety, which can increase symptoms of SAD.

Socializing is also a huge benefit to lifting the winter blues. It's easy to want to hibernate when it's cold and dark outside but it's important to connect with those around you!

Hopefully spring is right around the corner - I've seen enough robins to think that we'll see the sun again soon!

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#1

Re: Winter Blues

03/06/2015 1:02 PM

Just think, soon it will be black fly season. Should be a doozy this year.

But seriously, SAD is a real issue, especially at the higher latitudes. I have an older brother who is affected. His drinking issue definitely gets worse in the winter. Jimmy was definitely onto something with his changes in latitudes, attitudes thing.

Getting out definitely helps. Cross-country skiing is one way to break up the monotony. Opens up a lot of terrain for exploring. Sure got plenty of snow this year. Snow shoeing is another option for areas not suitable for the skinny skis.

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#6
In reply to #1

Re: Winter Blues

03/07/2015 9:07 AM

We used to call it "cabin fever". I agree, the best cure is to get outside and enjoy some activity.

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#2

Re: Winter Blues

03/06/2015 1:31 PM

A problem related to lack of sunlight is vitamin D -- the sunshine vitamin -- deficiency. Low vitamin D levels are linked to depression. This correlation might help explain the cause of SAD.

As Sir Robin points out, those of us who live in more northerly latitudes are more likely to suffer the effects of lack of sunlight, including lack of vitamin D. This is true even in months with longer days and temperatures high enough to be outside.

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#3

Re: Winter Blues

03/06/2015 6:37 PM

A week on the beach will put you right as rain....

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#4

Re: Winter Blues

03/07/2015 12:07 AM

Move to the tropics… no autumn blues, no winter blues. Hardware stores don't even sell snow shovels as a reminder of misery. Otherwise SE has the right idea, but only a week?

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#7
In reply to #4

Re: Winter Blues

03/08/2015 3:22 AM

Just monsoon blues.

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#5

Re: Winter Blues

03/07/2015 7:37 AM

Light therapy does work, I'm convinced. I reckoned later on that it was daily exposure to a 500W floodlight that had me feeling so upbeat one dreary winter. You need tropical attire though.

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#8

Re: Winter Blues

03/08/2015 12:55 PM

Vitamin D3, 2000 mg. / day, as many green vegetables as you are able to find / eat, lots of fruit, lots of water (tea etc.) (We forget to drink water when it is cold). Try all spectrum bulbs in lighting fixtures, the type that greenhouse growers use. There are some more advanced spectrums out there that replicate natural sunlight. And, when all else fails, a good vacation. We have had 3 groups of guests visit and stay with us in Ca. this winter, all from Boston and NY area, and they have said that they were totally re-energized after being able to walk in the sun, on a beach, wearing shorts and slippers!! Getting out of and back into Logan was the biggest challenge with the weather.

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#9

Re: Winter Blues

03/08/2015 10:44 PM

It was 84°F and sunny here today.

I will envy you poor souls with cabin fever until it's 110°F here every day for two months.

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#10
In reply to #9

Re: Winter Blues

03/08/2015 11:09 PM

100% agree, until the dry hills come tumbling down in an earthquake...

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#11

Re: Winter Blues

03/09/2015 5:25 AM

A friend of mine suffers in the same way but controls it by using an SAD light which closely mimics the wavelengths of natural sunlight.

I don't mind the winter months because I know it means that Harveys will be brewing Old Ale & Bonfire Boy.

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#12
In reply to #11

Re: Winter Blues

03/09/2015 12:20 PM

What is a "SAD" light? Not familiar with the term. Thanks

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#13
In reply to #12

Re: Winter Blues

03/09/2015 12:33 PM

It reproduces the wavelengths of light found in natural sun light instead of those found in various forms of electric light. This is one but there are many types. In the UK they tend to be LED lamps but only because tungsten glass bulbs were banned by an EU directive. If you can find glass SAD lamps they are much cheaper.

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#15
In reply to #13

Re: Winter Blues

03/09/2015 11:29 PM

Thank you, Nigh--One of the main reasons I try to stay connected, is so that I can learn about things that I am not familiar with. I know what I know, through experience, am familiar with things that are close to what I understand, and am willing to learn from anyone about anything that interests me. You have all helped in those regards. Many thanks, again...

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#14
In reply to #12

Re: Winter Blues

03/09/2015 12:35 PM

"Seasonal affective disorder" light.

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#16
In reply to #14

Re: Winter Blues

03/09/2015 11:46 PM

Love it--Also, under stand the Finns, and other northern Latitude countries have some of the highest suicide rates, also some of the highest antidepressant use rates…Hope that is not true--

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#17
In reply to #16

Re: Winter Blues

03/10/2015 1:45 AM

Vodka has nothing to do with that stat....

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#18

Re: Winter Blues

03/10/2015 8:26 AM

Hot off the Mashable press -> How To Boost Your Vitamin D Intake in Winter. Guess what? There's even an app for that -- dminder.

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