Archive for January, 2011

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

The holiday season is now behind us and in the Northeast part of the United States we are in the middle of the winter season. The days are shorter, its cold outside, and sometimes the sun doesn’t shine for days on end. For many this is a season that brings with it many unwanted symptoms: sleeping longer, feeling tired, anxiety or sadness, losing interest in activities you usually enjoy, craving carbohydrates and weight gain.

These symptoms are not imaginary, they are real and what you are suffering from is a mental health diagnosis termed: Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. Approximately 4-6% of Americans suffer from this each winter and as many as 20% of the population present with some symptoms but fall outside a strict diagnosis. 

SAD is generally defined as a set of symptoms which are related to sunlight levels and the seasonal variation of that light. These symptoms may be present to a greater or lesser degree in people who have the condition. A diagnosis of SAD is usually based on 3 consecutive winters of the same symptoms. The symptoms include:

  • depression
  • sleep problems (too much or too little)
  • lethargy
  • overeating
  • loss of concentration
  • social problems
  • anxiety
  • loss of libido
  • mood problems

Short of moving south or to the tropics there are several ways to reduce your symptoms that have proven to be effective.

Light Therapy:

I always say to my friends that I run on solar energy. When the sun is out bright for several days, my moods are more positive and I have energy to do so many things. That is because our skin and eyes both respond to light. Skin makes vitamin D when exposed to ultraviolet rays in sunlight.  The retinas, the tissue in the back of our eyes, have receptors that process not only how much light we see, but also what wavelength (or color) the light is. These receptors affect hormones that help our brain set a sleeping and waking cycle.

There are many full-spectrum lights that you can currently purchase through the internet. Some are in the form of a single light that you “expose” your face to for a set peiod of time each day. Others are in the form of a bulb that you can use instead of a standard light bulb in a light fixture. Personally, I have several of these bulbs in my kitchen. Since the kitchen is the area where I spend a good bit of time in early mornings, I can benefit from the light exposure and help to get my day started off right. It has been proven that 15 to 30 minutes daily of full-spectrum lighting can have a significant improvement on your symptoms.

Vitamin Supplements:

Specifically Vitamin D is also recommended. Daily winter dosages can range from 2,000 IU to 4,000 IU depending on the person.From the reports I’ve been reading, people who take Vitamin D are saying that they have an increased sense of well-being, improved sleep patterns and even weight loss. These are all things I find are disrupted when you have SAD so if taking Vitamin D can help resolve these issues, I think that’s awesome.

Regular Exercise:

It has been proven that regular exercise, especially in bright light can help lessen the symptoms of SAD. Whether you get this exercise from joining a gym, walking in a mall,or exercising at home, when it is too cold outside make sure you are in a well lite area. Most gyms and stores use bright lights, they understand the benefit to their customers. If you are exercising at home turn on the overhead lights in the room or exercise near a window that lets in plenty of sunlight.

There are still some shorter days left, but the hours of sunlight are slowly increasing again. If you or someone you know has symptoms of SAD, treating it can make these days seem brighter and may even make it possible to enjoy the rest of winter.

Until Next Time,


Lory Naugle, MS, NCC, DCC maintains a private practice counseling office in Shippensburg, PA. She specializes in depression, anxiety, ADHD, and other mood disorders in children through adults. She offers counseling in her office and by distance means such as secure email, chat and Skype. Please visit the rest of the web site for more information.

January 2011
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