Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
It’s that time of year. The days are getting shorter and many people experience symptoms of depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The fact that the incidence of SAD increases at higher latitudes implicates the availability of light and light exposure as the major factors in inducing SAD. Humans respond to the decrease in ambient light by undergoing physiological changes akin to winterizing responses: weight gain, loading up on carbs, anxiety, listlessness, isolation, and lack of motivation. The body goes into emergency hibernation mode, taking the mind with it.
Other than psychotherapy and medication, the most reliable treatment for SAD is light therapy, using full spectrum lights to illuminate the environment and extending light exposure beyond the ambient light cycle. Interestingly, recent research pointed out that the area behind the knees is somehow involved in maintaining proper circadian rhythms and that light exposure to that area may be helpful in alleviating SAD. So, perhaps walking in shorts, in the fall, like some hardy folks around town, may be a therapeutic practice.
As in regular depression, exercise, proper nutrition, fun and recreation, and appropriate sleep provide positive self-care support. Also well documented are a number of nutritional supplements such as Vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, melatonin, and SAMe, which may imitate the body’s natural response to sunlight and reset the circadian cycle.
Moshe Rozdzial, LPC is a psychotherapist, sex therapist, and counselor in private practice in Denver, Colorado. www.glowcounseling.com