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The SAD Time of Year

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

I remember that, as a kid, we played outside until we were expected to go home, have dinner and do our homework. However, I was sometimes bothered by a feeling I didn’t understand. As early evening approached and the sky got darker and friends gradually went home, I felt sad. It never felt as though it had anything to do with friends going home. No, it was something else. But what? 

Daylight is short, darkness descends much sooner than during summer, the sky is gray, the temperature is cold and snow is on the ground. You are aware that you are feeling blue, a little down. You have no energy to go out and wish you didn’t have to go to work. It occurs to you that this might be depression but you don’t know why you should be feeling so bad. Then your girlfriend tells you that you might have SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder. What is this and what can be done about it?

SAD has been described as the winter blues. However, what is experienced is not merely a blue feeling but genuine depression. Many psychologists report that the reduced amount of exposure to sun light reduces serotonin in the brain and that accounts for the feeling of depression. It is interesting that the rates of depression at the more northern latitudes, such as in Alaska, where there is a sharply reduced amount of sunlight and for a longer period of time, the rates of depression and alcohol abuse are much higher as compared to southerly latitudes, such as in Florida. In fact those northerners who vacation in places like Florida every winter may be doing more than just escaping snow and cold. Without realizing they may be trying to reduce the chances of feeling depressed by seeking the sunlight of southerly places.

Not everyone can vacation in sunny climates and, in any case, vacations come to end and people must return to their wintry homes. However, it might be possible to replace the reduced sunlight with a light box. Available for sale on the internet, light boxes have been used in several studies to reduce SAD symptoms and they often work.

However, in addition to or instead of light boxes, there are other things that people can do to reduce or eliminate these symptoms. Research consistently shows that exercise is an excellent way to reduce depression. Walking, jogging, walking the dog, biking or any exercise other exercise helps. These particular exercises take people out of the house into the open air while increasing the opportunity of seeing and speaking with neighbors. Also, there are days or parts of days that are sunny and, therefore, provide an opportunity to soak up some of the rays.

Reducing sweets and starch intake and eating sensibly is always a smart thing to do. During the gray and cold winter many people seem to crave sweets and starches. This could be why so many experience weight gain during the winter season.

There are times when SAD can be symptomatic of a deeper depression. If all if the strategies just described have been tried but the depression persists, it’s time to see a licensed clinical psychologist, licensed clinical social worker or psychiatrist. Today, there is little reason to be weighed down with unremitting depression.

Your comments and questions are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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