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Healthy Living: A bright spot for S.A.D. sufferers

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SEATTLE, Wash., -- This time of year, it can be easy to fall into a funk, a depression even. You’re not alone. More than 10 million Americans suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or S.A.D.

For an estimated 10 percent of Washingtonians, Seasonal Affective Disorder is a reality each and every year. A recent study by Best Places ranks the Puget Sound region as the gloomiest in America.

“You begin to have this low-grade depression that you just can’t seem to shake off," Dr. Gregg Jantz, the founder of The Center, A Place of Hope in Edmonds, says. "We know it’s real. So don’t worry, you may feel like it is in your head, well, you may have some brain chemistry, so part of it’s in your head. You hear those two brain chemicals - dopamine, serotonin - those can be particularly affected this time of year.”

But there is help available to fend off this annual low-grade depression.

Dr. Jantz says things we do every day can make a big difference.

“How is your nutrition intake of simple things, like water? We tend during the winter months to decrease our water intake. It has a big deal to do with our mood and our energy as well as brain power and concentration.”

Dr. Jantz says be sure to have your Vitamin D levels in your blood checked.

“We know that vitamin D has a lot to do with mood as well as energy," he says.

He says make a commitment to moving, even if it is just for 20 minutes, three times a week.

“The movement does two things ... increase the dopamine and what we call the endorphins. Those are feel-good chemicals in our body," Jantz says.

One more thing you can do is turn on the light: a natural, full-spectrum light.

“Look always for the 10,000 lux, and we know that it takes at least that. Get enough time in front of those, go for 20 minutes, 30 minutes. Maybe you’re gonna read, or as you’re getting ready for the day, have this light nearby. Most folks need to spend about 10-20 minutes in the morning with these lights.”

These lights come in all shapes and sizes. They should be a couple of feet away and to the right or left side of you. Don't stare directly into these lights.

Why do these lights work? Because eyes are a part of the brain, Dr. Jantz says.

"Everything enters through our eyes, so it’s affecting, it’s going through the brain ... so that’s why it’s working," he says. "These lights do affect brain chemistry. Particularly it’s gonna help boost serotonin levels in the brain, which has a lot to do with mood as well as sleep.”

Using these lights can also help balance your circadian rhythm, or natural sleep cycle.

Dr. Jantz  says to drink water, exercise and use these lights for 30 days, and if you don’t see an improvement, you should consider additional help.

Click here for a list of mental health resources.

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