Winter Blues!
The longest and darkest night of the year is going to be upon us soon! Along with the cold winter clouds “a certain kind of sadness” gets ushered in. The diagnostic manual calls it SAD – no pun intended! SAD is short for Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Science and SAD. Did you know that doctors viewed the winter blues as an “attention seeker” and didn’t admit that it was significantly affecting people’s life, until recently? And because it affects women more than men, guess how these women were seen by their doctors, when they complained!

Today researchers have officially classified it as a disorder and accepted it as a legitimate concern! Using FMRI and CAT Scan technology scientists record and study what goes on with the brain of someone with SAD and continue to look for cures.

Geography Affects Our Mood. SAD affects mostly those who have to endure long winter nights. About 10% of adults who live in New Hampshire reported suffering from SAD. Compare that with 1.4% of adults with SAD who live in Florida. (From an Epidemiological study reported by Dr Richard Friedman in the New York Times. Dec. 18, 2007.)

Young Age and SAD. You may think that it is obvious that SAD affects mostly those living in northern states. But, did you know that the most vulnerable population in the northern states and also those who are young? Young people have a higher risk of developing seasonal affective disorder compared to those who are older, according to Mental Health Daily, Sep.7, 2015.

Women and SAD. More women are diagnosed with SAD than men every year. However, research shows that men who are diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder seem to suffer more and to have more debilitating symptoms than women. (Mental Health Daily, Sep.7, 2015.)

Do Something About SAD. In my work as a therapist I often come across clients who struggle with SAD. The treatment is simple and it depends of how motivated one is. What helps is understanding your own symptoms and searching for solutions that work for you.

7 SAD Symptoms:

Brain fog: Susan has a difficult time thinking clearly in the past couple of months. She feels as if she cannot organize her thoughts for planning and that’s not like her usual self. Her therapist helped her trace a repeatable pattern of intellectual dullness to the winter time and significant relief in the summers. Her doctor said that in her case it is the result of neurophysiological changes associated with lack of sunlight and excess theta waves.

Slowing down: Jim feels that his energy level is low again this winter. He just wants to sit around and that is not like him at all. He misses the summer and the long winter nights make him feel sad. One of the symptoms of SAD is slow psychomotor activity.

Fatigue: Danielle experiences severe fatigue every winter. Originally she thought it may be fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome. Her doctor said it is seasonal fatigue and diagnosed her with SAD.

Food cravings: Jason is a young athletic guy and not much concerned with his weight gain but he said that the increase of carb intake in the winter is really noticeable. It is common to experience major food cravings with Seasonal Affective Disorder, especially during the winter months. 

Sleep changes: Inadequate daytime sunlight has messed up Amber’s sleep. She said she has always had a hard time adjusting to the daylight time changes in October. As the days got shorter her circadian rhythm got thrown off balance and her sleep cycle became chaotic.

Low libido: Timothy is complaining about his girlfriend who “has become cold and distant” after a great summer together. She says she really loves him and talked to her doctor because she couldn’t figure out “what was wrong.” Doctor said that she has SAD. Seasonal depression can affect the sex drive and make someone uninterested during the winter months.

Withdrawal from friends: Janine’s friends complain she never goes out with them after work on Thursdays anymore. She has also not been out the past several weekends other than to walk her dog. Cold weather and long nights have limited her willingness to socialize in the evenings. Her therapist said that her social withdrawal is associated with seasonal affective disorder. Isolation can trigger depressive symptoms and make the treatment of SAD more complicated.

7 Ways to Cure SAD!

Drug free options that have been researched and are proven to treat SAD:

  1. Photo-Responsiveness Treatment.  Are you naturally an early riser or a late one? Are you a lark or an owl? Once you know the best time for you to get up, use 30 minutes of fluorescent soft-white light at 10,000 lux. The effects of light therapy are fast, usually four to seven days.
  2. Dawn Simulation.
    That’s another effective treatment during sleep. It utilizes artificially-timed lights in the bedroom to gradually increase in brightness over a designated time span, just as if the sun were rising. 
  3. Tanning Salons.
    Great option although one must exercise caution and limit too much exposure to unhealthy levels of UVA/UVB ratios.
  4. Negative Ions are good for us! 
    The newest promising therapy for SAD is negative air ionization. Dr. Friedman in his New York Times’ article, talks about Dr. Terman’s serendipitous discovery, and how he figured that negative ions have positive effects on mood.
    Heated and air-conditioned environments that most of us live in, are not helpful for a positive mood. The best places are humid forests or living by the shore. The atmosphere there is loaded with negative ions that promote good mood.
    “It makes you wonder whether there is something, after all, to those tales about the mistral and all those hot dry winds…that supposedly drive people mad.” (As reported by Dr Richard Friedman at his New York Times article, Dec. 18, 2007.)
  5.  Take a Tropical Vacation.
    This winter take time off and head for a sunny, tropical vacation for a week or two. It only takes planning. You can arrange to spend every writer in the south and preferably by the shore. Many take six months off from the cold and dark north and seek the beautiful southern sun.
  6. Celebrate!
    Don’t forget that somehow, we have arranged for the darkest days of the year to coincide with wonderful celebrations! Regardless of religious preferences most of us enjoy decorations, singing, gathering around, exchanging gifts, and eating delicious foods!
  7. Take Action!
    A New Year is coming! Make changes. Look on the horizon. Make New Year resolutions. Keep them small, realistic, and beautiful and so you get there before the year ends!

May the spirit of the season keep you joyful and SAD free!


P.S. If you suspect that you or a loved one have SAD consult your medical provider. The treatment for SAD is simple and it can protect you from depression – but SAD is not depression and the two disorders have different treatments. If you feel you have SAD or you are depressed talk to your doctor or your therapist today about your symptoms so they can determine your correct diagnosis.This information is not to replace your medical or/and mental health care. Don’t make any changes in your treatment without first consulting your providers.