RX for Readers: Feeling ‘SAD’

Rx for Readers welcomes queries from readers about medical problems. Experts will answer those we find most interesting.

Rain drops 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Rain drops 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
I am a 34-year-old recent immigrant from Canada. In my native country, I suffered from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or “winter depression” due to the reduction in sunlight during the colder months. I feel fine the rest of the year.

Even though there is more sunlight through the seasons here, do some Israelis suffer from SAD nevertheless? – P.M., Jerusalem.
Itamar Paskal, a Tel Aviv clinical psychologist, replies:
The shortened days of autumn, the change to winter time that suddenly reduces by one the number of sunlight hours, and the cooler air gives many people a feeling of sadness and even depression.
SAD is well known in countries in the north, especially in Scandinavia, but surprisingly it is also quite common in Israel. But no one has to suffer from it, and one can take practical measures to improve one’s mood in the autumn and winter. He can work not only on himself but take advantage of social and family connections, as well as to consult professionals if this is not enough.
Dropping temperatures commonly cause people to eat sweets, but this not only causes weight increase but in the long term increases bad moods or depression.
Empty calories from simple carbohydrates cause temporary relief from hunger, but then they result in rapid declines in sugar levels, leading people to desire more sweets. This process can cause sudden mood changes.
In this case, beverages with caffeine such as coffee, cola and cocoa are not recommended as they increase tension and irritability.
The best way to cope with SAD in the fall and winter is to increase one’s activity during the day. Go for a walk in the morning or afternoon on a nice, sunny day. Whoever works long hours in the office can “steal” an hour or two in the middle of the day and go out. After such a break, your work will be more productive than if you work nonstop in the darkness.
In some cases, seasonal affective disorder can cause serious mood problems, including the lack of will to function normally, tiredness, excessive sleepiness and other problems. Psychologists recognize SAD as seasonal depression that exists for two seasons and disappears in the spring and summer months. Sufferers feel heaviness, general lack of interest in things, a lack of pleasure, tiredness, difficulty concentrating, bad mood, excessive sleep and an urge to eat high-calorie foods that results in weight gain. SAD affects adults, especially those aged 20 to 35, and 75 percent of the cases are women.
People with SAD do not have to accept their fate and hide under the blanket in bed. They can go for professional treatment that includes medication, exercise, phototherapy (exposure to light) and nutritional advice. A psychologist can help them understand whether their depression when the seasons change comes from deeper problems and not just the lack of sunlight.
Treatment can improve not only routine functioning but also one’s quality of life.
I am 18 years old and have just arrived from the US to study for a bachelor’s degree in Israel. I used a small laptop from time to time for studying at my US high school, but I will be using it for academic studies most of the day. Do you have advice on how to do so without suffering any back pain from leaning over it or headaches from focusing on the screen? – G.Y., Herzliya
Dr. Joanna Geiger, national adviser on ergonometry at the Israel Institute for Occupational Safety, comments:
During one’s studies, the laptop becomes the student’s best friend. It seems a perfect mobile work station, but improper use can cause chronic health problems. When you sit either during lectures or at home, do so with the center of the screen just a bit lower than eye level to minimize stress on the neck and shoulders. It is advisable, when working for hours nonstop, to attach a mouse to the laptop instead of using the mouse pad on the computer so you don’t have to constantly bend your wrist. Adding a roll-up silicone keyboard makes it much easier to type than using the laptop’s built-in keyboard.
Working in cramped positions and on too-low surfaces, such as while lying on the campus grass or on small tables or in bed, can cause pain in the neck, shoulders, hands and back and hurt ligaments and vertebral discs. Try to avoid this as much as possible.
Put a solid, flat surface on your lap if you don’t have a desk, otherwise you may suffer from a skin burn from the heat emitted by the laptop. Direct use can also harm male fertility due to the high temperatures near the scrotum. Stands for laptops that allow them to be used at the proper height are sold at computer supply shops. If you have to place the laptop on your knees, change the angle of the screen to make it more comfortable by raising your feet on a step, a stool or a large box file.
Rx for Readers welcomes queries from readers about medical problems. Experts will answer those we find most interesting. Write Rx for Readers, The Jerusalem Post, POB 81, Jerusalem 91000, fax your question to Judy Siegel-Itzkovich at (02) 538-9527, or e-mail it to [email protected], giving your initials, age and place of residence.