The excitement of the holidays is upon us, but this time of year can be overwhelming for some.

In certain cases, persons may notice symptoms that are associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder.

"While we don't know for sure the exact cause (of SAD), there are a number of possible contributing factors," reports Dr. Sarah Lacey-Horine, Community Mental Health Center, Lawrenceburg, south coordinator of psychological services.

"When the days get shorter, people's natural sleep/wake cycle can be disrupted, which in turn disrupts a number of functions in our bodies. For example, the body produces more melatonin -- a hormone crucial to sleep often produced more at night -- in the winter, which has been linked to an increase in depressive symptoms.

"Additionally, in the wintertime, the body produces less serotonin due to less exposure to sunlight. Serotonin is thought to play a role in regulating mood.

"Individuals with a history of depression, anxiety disorders or chronic fatigue may be more likely to experience an increase in these symptoms during winter months.

the licensed clinical psychologist notes, "An additional risk factor is living in northern locations where the nights tend to be longer and the days shorter. Many of the symptoms seen with SAD are similar to those seen in depression. The onset of symptoms usually begins in late fall and subsides during the springtime."

Lacey-Horine says symptoms can include depressed mood, increase or decrease in sleep and appetite, loss of energy and motivation, feelings of hopelessness, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities and anxiety.

She adds, "It is normal for people to feel a little blue during the winter months. However, if an individual notices these symptoms occuring at the same time -- around the change of the seasons -- each year, it is recommended that this individual checks in with his or her doctor, who may recommend therapy and/or medication.

She advises, "Reaching out to friends and family for support is always helpful. Scheduling yourself fun activities is also good. Exposing yourself to some sunshine, whether real or through an artificial sunlamp, is also important."

The disorder typically affects individuals over 20. "It is more common in females, but men who are diagnosed tend to experience more severe symptoms."

Lacey-Horine points out, "It is important to note that SAD does not necessarily just occur in the wintertime. It is a cyclical issue. Some individuals even experience the opposite cycle and become depressed in the summertime. The important thing to remember is with SAD the onset is around the same time every year."