Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) By Susie Clothier, DC

Seasonal Affective Disorder (also called SAD) is a type of depression that occurs at the same time every year. Most people in the Northeastern territory of the US have symptoms that start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping energy and causing mood swings. Although less common, it may also occur in the spring or early summer. Someone suffering from SAD could feel as though someone hit the dimmer on their happiness. Dreary days and lack of natural light can really cramp ones motivation as well as alter their circadian rhythm, leaving a person short on the mood boosting hormone serotonin. SAD is prevalent when Vitamin D stores are typically low. It can also be caused by lack of exercise, negative ions, and your overall attitude.

According to Michael Terman, Ph.D., director of the Center for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms at Columbia University Medical Center, some 15 million people (three-fourths of them women), suffer from SAD. Their symptoms range from low energy, carb cravings, and weight gain to a dwindling sex drives. SAD’s severity can range from totally manageable to life-disrupting, but it has been found to be manageable through several interventions.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is also known as the sunshine vitamin because it is produced by the body in response to sunlight. It also occurs naturally in a few foods, such as some fish, fish liver oils, and egg yolks, fortified dairy, and grain products. Vitamin D supplements are also a great idea if you aren’t sure about the quality of foods that you digest, especially if taken in an isotonic formula. You should aim between 1,000 and 2,000 IU daily to help even out the winter mood, also vitamin D helps with everything from colon and bone to breast health.

If you do spend the majority of your time indoors, you may want to consider investing in a light box packed with superbright white

fluorescent bulbs; it can elevate your serotonin levels and reset your internal clock to a spring/summer schedule, says Terman. Position the gadget above your line of sight, angled downward toward your head, and flip it on each morning for about 30 minutes while you eat breakfast or check your e-mail. Although you don’t need a prescription, it’s best to have a powwow with a mental health doctor before buying a light box—they can make sure you get the correct-intensity bulbs (generally, 10,000 lux) that properly filter out harmful UV rays.


Just because it’s cold outside that is no excuse to stop working out. Move your routine indoors to the treadmill or other cardio equipment. One study showed that about 60 minutes of daily indoor cardio was just as effective as light therapy in whacking back SAD—and any form of aerobic exercise helps depression. Studies show that moderately depressed people who walked briskly three times a week for four months saw their symptoms ebb (those only on meds saw less of a turnaround). If you want to up the anty try adding some dumbells to your routine, ones that are heavy enough to tire you out after about ten reps. Intense training can unleash a hefty shot of serotonin, and regularly lifting heavy weights can significantly reduce many SAD symptoms.

Negative Ions

I’ll try to not get too “Sciency” here, but negative ions the atoms that have a negatively charged particle can play a key role in fighting depression. These negative ions are most prevalent in outdoor summer air; in winter, a dearth can send your mood downhill. But a Columbia University study found that the use of an electrical ionizer machine (a long name for a small black box) combats SAD by mimicking summer air. Bonus: It’s totally hassle-free. You just set a timer to switch the box on 90 minutes before your alarm clock buzzes, then click it off once you’re up.


Research shows that you may be able to talk yourself into being in a better mood. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a form of psychotherapy that helps change negative thought patterns, help relieve depressive symptoms in just a few months.

CBT focuses on specific mood-lifting solutions—scheduling ski trips, dinner dates with friends, sticking to a weekly mani-pedi plan—that counteract an “it’s too crappy out to do anything” attitude. Seem too simple? Get this: Only 7 percent of CBT patients suffered a recurrence of SAD the next winter, compared with 37 percent of those who used light therapy alone.

So all in all, if you are suffering from what you think may be SAD, don’t just mope around and be depressed. There is something you can do about it and several of the options listed here will take you in the right direction.

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