This Winter we are experiencing one of the colder and snowier ones we have had in awhile. What makes this more challenging is the last fewer winters have been mild, making this one seem even colder. A lot of us are looking forward to warmer weather. There are some people who struggle through this time due to their emotional state. Individuals with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) are faced with challenges others may not understand. This months article presents information on SAD and how one may address symptoms as a result of this disorder. We have also included our latest practice updates and speaking engagements. Please contact us at  for suggestions or feedback… we would love to hear from you.

Seasonal Affective Disorder: Addressing the Winter Blues

Wintertime seems to never end. For most of us, recreational pursuits become limited, energy levels may decrease, diets and sleep patterns change, and overall, there is a decrease in activity level. To a degree, this is normal. For others, winter time becomes more challenging. These individuals may be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This is a depressive disorder that affects someone during the same season each year. A majority of the time this is a winter time illness, although in some rare cases, people experience it during the summer time. People experiencing SAD generally fit this profile: living in regions where winter day light is shorter, family history of SAD or other depressive disorders, ages 15-55(people of all ages still get suffer from this), and woman(they are four times more likely to experience this than men). The older you get, the less likely you will experience SAD. There is no known cause of it, but some experts believe the change in sunlight disrupts our sleep-wake cycle. It could also impact on our serotonin levels in our brain, which in turn may cause depressive symptoms.

The warning signs of SAD are:

  • Feel sad, grumpy, irritable, moody or anxious
  • Increase sleep, feeling fatigue
  • Increase of appetite (eat or crave carbohydrates), weight gain
  • Decrease of activity
  • Social withdrawal
  • Lethargy
  • Increase of worry or anxiety
  • Loss of concentration

A person who experiences SAD usually sees an improvement in symptoms in April or May, although in some cases it goes on longer. The symptoms first appear in late autumn. If a pattern has emerged (at least two years in a row) there is likelihood you may have SAD.

SAD symptoms can be treated by:

  • Maintaining consistent and healthy sleep patterns
  • Focusing on a diet, avoid binge eating, shop  healthy.. bringing unhealthy foods into the house increases the chances of unhealthy eating.
  • Exercise, even 25 minutes a day could help. Set up a realistic plan(time and location) that works best for you.
  • Increasing social activities
  • Solidify support systems
  • Avoid negative or self defeating thinking. If you journal your thoughts, this offers better opportunity to monitor non productive thoughts
  • Volunteer your time.
  • Light therapy (see enclosed article)

If these interventions do not help, it is important to seek out professional help. The first stop may be a doctor to get a physical and rule out any medical condition. If a doctor prescribes medication, that could be one route to go. If you seek out a therapist, he or she could provide additional support and guidance in addressing symptoms.

While I relish our warm months, winter forms our character and brings out our best. `    Tom Allen

Light Therapy

Individuals experiencing SAD symptoms could benefit from light boxes or light therapy. Since there is a belief that loss of sunlight during winter months is a factor in SAD symptoms, light therapy is often recommended. The artificial light mimic’s sunlight which helps in the loss of sunlight associated with winter time. It creates a chemical change in your brain that helps address symptoms of SAD. There is not a clear industry standard for these devices (they are not approved or regulated by the Food and Drug Administration). There are numerous products on the market and if you are buying it on your own, here are some guidelines.

  • Make sure it is used to treat SAD. Some light therapy lamps are designed for skin disorders
  • Pay attention to how bright it is when comparing boxes. The brighter it is, the less time you may need under the lamp.
  • Look to see how much UV light it releases. The less the better
  • What type of light does it emit? Usually there are two choices, blue or white. Research at this time support the use of white light over blue. Blue light also increases the likelihood of eye damage.
  • Look for a style of light that fits you. When and where you use it could be a factor on what style you buy.

There are two ways individuals can use light therapy. One is referred to as Dawn stimulation. This works similar to the way sunlight comes in the morning. A dim lights goes on in the morning and slowly gets brighter. Bright light treatment is where you sit in front of the lamp, most effective first thing in morning. Use a minimum of 30 minutes a day. Users should be within two feet of the lamp for most effective results. Side effects may include eye strain and/or headaches. If these persist, it is recommended you see your doctor. Ideally, treatment should start in fall, before SAD symptoms present themselves. It is recommended treatment continue until spring time. It is also important to know that lamps are usually not covered by insurance so this will be an out of pocket expense.