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How to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder during the winter season

Light box therapy is just one treatment to consider with a doctor.

TAMPA, Fla. — Christmas week is here. While lots of people have been anxiously awaiting its arrival, it’s certainly not the happiest time of year for some.

Dr. Gail Saltz, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, says the struggles for some people may be exacerbated by a lack of sunlight.

“The days are shorter and we know this affects various hormonal systems in the body and people who are predisposed to this are therefore going to suffer,” she explains.

It’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). To treat it, you need to pinpoint that it's the problem. To do that, you’ll want to seek a professional but you can do some of your own homework, too.

Dr. Saltz says start by looking for a pattern in your feelings. Did you feel depressed and lethargic this time, last year?

“Any other years that basically you find, oh now that I think about it, this feels familiar, I do tend to feel this way at this time of year,” explains Saltz.

To address the depression, she says control what you can by making healthy meal choices and avoiding alcohol. It's important to purposely make an effort to get outside for a boost of vitamin D will, “like regular aerobic exercise, getting outside in the sunlight,” says Saltz.

You can also create that boost with light box therapy. Dr. Saltz explains, it’s “basically the use of a specialized kind of light, not just any old bright light but it has to have what’s called a certain number of lux or strength of light, over 10,000.”

Think of it as replenishing sunlight without the dangerous UV bans. People are encouraged to use the box every morning, “as soon as you wake up, for about 20 minutes," explains Saltz.

Medications are also available to help treat the disorder, you can talk to your health care provider about what’s best for you. Lastly, as you’re facing the holidays Dr. Saltz encourages people who are struggling to give themselves a break.

“Don’t over plan. Don’t say I’ve got to spend all this money, get all the gifts, have the family endlessly if that’s very stressful for you, try to contain the stress, so you can have a better time.”