Fresh air and exercise usually help lift sagging spirits in the gloom of late autumn and winter, a leading Psychiatrist told the German Press Agency DPA.

“One reason for low spirits is that we spend less time out of doors and are less active in the winter,” said Frank Schneider, president of the German Society of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Nervous Diseases (DGPPN) and Director of the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy at Aachen University Hospital.

Schneider said that lethargy and difficulty getting up in the morning were not unusual during those months.

The primary cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or “winter blues,” he said, is a shortage of daylight. It is not an illness, however, and shouldn’t be confused with clinical depression, whose chief symptoms are profound sadness, apathy and lack of energy lasting at least two weeks. Someone with these symptoms should consult his or her family doctor or a psychiatrist.

Schneider said that people could go without natural light for a long time so long as they had sufficient social contact. “They’re in a lousy mood but don’t automatically become depressed,” he remarked.

Bright light therapy has proven effective in helping some depressed people, though, he pointed out. The lamps stimulate the brain into not secreting the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, thus helping to restore a normal wake-sleep cycle and enhancing mood.

Such lamps are unnecessary for healthy people with seasonally low spirits - and declaring otherwise is “piffle,” Scheider remarked.

Getting fresh air and exercise is enough. He noted that people received sufficient luminous stimuli out of doors even when skies were overcast.

More In: Health | Sci-Tech