Seasonal Affective Disorder: Tips on How to Overcome

by Donald Cleveland

If you’re reading this in the Northern part of the USA you have a 10% chance of experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder while those living in Florida have only a 2% likelihood. It seems that the star that lights the day so brightly in the summer and melts the snow in the spring is missed in the winter. As the days grow shorter our body’s need for light remains the same.

Wherever you live the sun is the sustaining star we depend on to survive. For some its lessening light in the winter means sleeping and eating too much and experiencing depression. If this describes your situation you may be a victim of Seasonal Affective Disorder commonly referred to as cabin fever.

Some may require the assistance of a mental health professional while others can take self-help steps to feel better. This article will discuss what Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is, the causes of SAD, and what you can do about it.

What is SAD?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder recognized by the mental health profession as a form of depression affecting people between late fall and early spring. Approximately 3% of these cases are an extension of a major depressive disorder and require the help of a licensed mental health care provider.

An estimated 15% to 25% of people do not experience symptoms as severe as a depressive disorder but live with a more mild form during the winter months. This article is provided to assist those with this more seasonal form.

What causes SAD?

Sad is believed to be associated with a lower amount of sunlight received in winter months creating lower moods and gloominess in some people. When the body receives less sunlight during the winter months, lower levels of the hormone melatonin are produced in the body. These lower levels are believed to increase the tendency for people with SAD to sleep longer.

Another potential cause of SAD is the delay of circadian rhythms. When this cycle of daily activity is affected by winter’s shorter days mood can be affected in a negative way.

Those who have a habit of thinking negatively throughout the year are more likely to develop SAD as clinical research shows these people can be predisposed to SAD. Prolonged worrying, and thinking about things over and over again can also find one struggling with SAD in the winter months.

3 Ways to Manage SAD

In this section we will consider three ways to manage symptoms of SAD including SSRI’s, circumstantial over the counter medications, and bright light therapy.


Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s) are considered the best medication option available for SAD sufferers. You have probably seen this drug advertised for those suffering with depression with the admonition to, “See your doctor” along with an extensive list of possible side effects. This makes sense as SAD is a type of depression but most of those suffering from SAD probably don’t need this solution with its side effects of suicidality, nausea, headache, weight gain, insomnia, nervousness, and anxiety, just to name a few. If the other options below bring no relief you should discuss your case with a licensed mental health professional that can help you figure out what you need from a clinical standpoint.

Circumstantial Over the Counter Medications

These substances include Tryptophan, an amino acid, and St. John’s Wort derived from a plant species.  The, “circumstantial” in the headline comes first since sometimes they work and many times they don’t. And you must be very careful about reading the label for side effects as well as check with your doctor or pharmacist about combing any of these substances with your current medications.

If you decide to try Tryptophan check the ingredients on the label. Although Tryptophan is a naturally occurring amino acid, most manufactures add other vitamins and minerals and may also include preservatives and fillers.

If you decide to try St. John’s Wort, be advised that the active ingredients typically include extracts from the Hypericum plant and pseudohypericin. Web MD found that the amount of these active ingredients vary widely so take this factor into account. Like the additives in Tryptophan, compare products between suppliers as ingredients may vary.

Bright Light Therapy

Saving what might be the best for last is the possibility of sitting before a bright light in the morning. By simulating summertime conditions your body can be tricked and act as if summer never faded away.

This type of therapy boasts over 100 clinical studies and counting. It seems to produce some great results, however researchers are struggling to come up with definitive research methods. They are not sure how much difference the treatment makes between people that get the full treatment and those who receive less light. Participants know whether or not they are receiving a low level of light or a higher level so there is no true placebo like a common clinical trial for a drug. Some researchers believe even the lower light condition may have a positive effect.

You can go online and find a reputable company like Amazon to purchase what’s called a Light Therapy Box or Light Therapy Lamp. Typically costing around a couple of hundred dollars this product may be a good place to start experimenting without the use of medications. However you still have to be aware of side effects. Common issues include feeling jittery after use or experiencing headaches.

Timing is the key. Research shows that the best time to be in front of the light box is between 6:30 am and 8:30 am under a specialized light showering 3000 lux or LEDs in the 450-480 nm range. Thirty minutes is the minimum amount of time one needs to spend to produce an affect and between 60 to 120 minutes is common. It makes sense to begin with a half hour to start and gradually increase your exposure from there.

If none of these suggestions reduce your symptoms its best to seek professional help. Life is too short not to live as well in the winter as we do in the summer. Don’t sit on the sidelines and think about how you’re feeling as depressive feelings often find us idle. Take action. The very act of moving forward often means you are well on your way to healing.

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