Tag: Seasonal Affective Disorder

Cold Dark Season Has Reader Depressed

Winter is here and it is a difficult time for me. Between the cold, the dark, and the lack of outdoor time, I get really depressed. I know about SAD and have tried light therapy. I think it helps some but not enough. What other things can I try?

This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on February 13, 2019 by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine


Winter is here and it is a difficult time for me. Between the cold, the dark, and the lack of outdoor time, I get really depressed. I know about SAD and have tried light therapy. I think it helps some but not enough. What other things can I try?


Winter is a difficult time for many.  Some people enjoy winter because they have sports like skiing or snowmobiling, which causes them to look forward to it.  For many of us, winter is to be tolerated.  Some, like you, have the added difficulty where seasonal circumstances, like the lack of light, which affects your mood and leads to depression.  For some, the difficult months come on in February and March due to an accumulated effect of reduced daylight.  You mentioned SAD, which stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder.  SAD can cause depressed mood, social withdrawal, and mental health problems like increased anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts.  

Here are some interventions that can help:

Preplan winter.  As the winter season approaches each year, fill your calendar with activities both social and physical.  Schedule lunch with friends, movie nights, family game and puzzle challenges.  Have a lot of interactions with people you care about.  Social supports and things to look forward to can make the winter seem to go faster.

Bundle up and get out!   Plan to be outside in the morning or the middle of the day whether it is cloudy or sunny.  Daylight helps; try to get out whenever you can.  Some sufferers like to wear yellow lenses which reduce blue light and make everything brighter.

Buddy up with another that may also be troubled by the difficult winter.  You can help motivate each other with physical activity and healthy eating.

Boost up the self-care.  This is the time to focus on your own needs.  Do an inventory of the physical, social, emotional, and spiritual areas of your life.  Are there any needing attention or outlet?  What can you add to bring life into balance? Counselors can help with this.

Use your light therapy every day. Think of it as a daily medication. Start in the fall as the daylight first starts to shorten. Place the light in front of you every morning for a half hour.  Eat breakfast by it or read.  Do it every day.

Plan a winter getaway.  If you have the means, taking a vacation to a sunny climate during winter months can be a real lift.

Check with your doctor.  This problem is likely to come back every year, as long as you live where the days are shorter in the winter.  If you haven’t already, see your doctor for medication, It is best to do this in the early fall so the medication will be at therapeutic levels come the dark months. This will help with the hormone imbalance caused by the lack of light.

Consider vitamin D.  Ask your doctor about this.  People who live in wintery climates often have low levels of vitamin D.  This is the vitamin that is produced in our bodies by sunlight interacting with our skin and has many healthful purposes, including treating and preventing depression.

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine, a mental health and substance abuse treatment agency serving adults, adolescents, children and families. For more information or if you or someone you know needs help, call us at 877-888-4304 or visit our website www.healthaffiliatesmaine.com and click on “Referrals.”

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For some people, the shorter days of the fall and winter months bring with it an increase in depressive symptoms.  This type of depression has been called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It usually impacts people during the change of seasons when there is a decrease in light, and it lessens or stops when the seasons change again, bringing additional light. 

Studies showing the numbers of people with SAD vary from about half a million people (4-6% of the population) up to 10-20% of the population in the U.S.  

Symptoms of SAD include:

  • being sluggish/low energy/ fatigue; reduced sex drive
  • losing interest in activities that once were pleasurable
  • decrease in social interactions
  • experiencing difficulty concentrating
  • sleep problems
  • gaining or losing weight
  • feeling depressed most or all of the day, almost every day
  • feeling worthless or hopeless
  • having frequent thoughts of suicide
  • The symptoms occur for more than two weeks and recur during the same time of year

What Causes SAD?

The exact cause of SAD is still to be determined, however most theories attribute the disorder to the lessening of daylight hours.  This can disrupt circadian rhythms (the body’s internal clock), increases the production of melatonin (causing sleepiness, the body’s way of telling us when it is time to go to bed), and decreases the production of serotonin (which helps to regulate mood).

It’s more prevalent in the northern than southern States.   Not everyone gets treatment for SAD as it is typically attributed to the “winter blues” or “cabin fever” and there is an expectation to just ignore it, endure it or “man up”. 

Now, the good news. SAD can be treated. 

First, if you feel you may have SAD, after looking at the symptoms listed above, it is recommended that you see your doctor to determine whether it is due to a medical cause (i.e.: hypothyroidism or another medical condition) and a therapist to assess if symptoms are due to SAD or another diagnosis (Depression, Bipolar disorder or trauma).  During the therapist’s assessment you might be asked to fill out the Seasonal Pattern Assessment Questionnaire or a depression questionnaire.  These will help determine the cause of your symptoms. 

Next, depending on the symptoms and their severity your doctor may prescribe medication, light therapy and CBT therapy. 

  • Medication: Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) for depressive symptoms.
  • Light box therapy: A prescribed therapy using light to reset circadian/ biological rhythms. Work with your doctor due to changes in length of time, intensity and type of light used.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – To change the pattern/thoughts/ behaviors leading to the symptoms.

If you are diagnosed with SAD there are a number of things that you can do.

  • Educate yourself and your family about SAD and any treatments.
  • Increase the amount of light you get each day by: going outside, allowing natural light to shine inside, rearranging work areas, going without sunglasses, sitting in the sunshine or next to a window in classrooms, restaurants, and other places.
  • While it is light out, avoid dark areas. This increases the level of melatonin.
  • Exercise outside or facing a window to maximize the amount of sunlight.
  • Be aware of the temperature and dress warmly due to sensitivity to cold.
  • Putting a timer on lights so that the lights go on one half hour or more before awakening. This has made it easier for some people to wake up in the morning.
  • Keep a daily record of energy levels, moods, appetite/weight, sleep times and activities to track biological rhythms.
  • Stay on a regular wake/sleep cycle to increase alertness and decrease fatigue.
  • Postpone making major decisions in your life until the season is over and symptoms abate.
  • Share experiences/treatment with others who have SAD.

For those who are still interested in learning more about SAD please read the following articles:



Author: Cynthia Booker-Bingler, LCSW, Health Affiliates Maine

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Daylight Savings Time began on November 1st this year. 

The first Sunday of the month. There are over 70 countries all over the world that use Daylight Savings Time. That means that over a billion people are affected by the changes in time twice a year! Not only that, but the dates that Daylight Savings Time starts have also changed over the years.

But what happens to our bodies?

Over a 24-hour cycle, our bodies release chemicals that translate to the time of day. The time change affects our bodies. Ever noticed how going to bed late on weekends affects getting back on schedule on Mondays? The same thing happens when getting on an airplane and changing time zones. Changing time zone means adjusting to a difference in time. This same thing happens during Daylight Savings Time. Daylight Savings Time can disrupt our internal Circadian Rhythm – or our internal biological clock – and interfere with the amount of melatonin which our bodies produce for sleep. Melatonin is made by the body when there is a decrease in light playing a role in whether we feel sleepy or wide awake. When it is darker our body continues to release melatonin causing us to feel sleepy.

For adults and children

The transition of getting up an hour earlier can be difficult to adjust to. While getting used to change in their sleep pattern, most people react by feeling sluggish, tired and fatigued. Reactions to being tired can show as an increase in being seen as “cranky”, irritable, easily frustrated, less alert, a decrease in concentration and mood changes. This can lead to difficulties performing tasks that normally would not be as difficult – like doing school work, a job, or driving. Some studies suggest that there are more heart attacks brought on by the stress accompanying the change. (If you are affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder, the change in seasons and decrease in light can have an added impact).

For teens

Teens require an average of nine hours of sleep and if they haven’t slept long enough by going to bed too late, they feel “perpetually drowsy”. This affects their performance at school with their ability to pay attention and to learn.

What can be done to help adjust to this change in time?

It is very helpful to be proactive and prepared. Discussing the change ahead of time whether with family members, friends or colleagues. If your child has a lot of difficulty with transitions, talk to them about it. Remember, losing one hour may not seem like much, but it still affects our bodies and our routines. You might want to:

  • Talk to the teacher at school, the school bus driver and with your spouse as appropriate to your situation. This helps everyone and the family get used to the idea that a change is coming.

  • For some, getting clothing ready the night before, organizing everything that is needed for school or work is helpful.

  • Going to bed earlier and giving some time for waking up completely in the morning increases alertness and mental acuity.

  • Be prepared to feel tired, sluggish or fatigued when getting into the car and take a few extra minutes to look both ways before driving.
    Even if you feel fine, others may not be as prepared as you are!

  • Be prepared for having less daytime so having some activities ready can be helpful.

  • Children still have a lot of physical energy that they may not use if they cannot stay out after dark.

Parents Try This

Making a list of some activities your child or children can do inside to get that energy out is helpful like:

  • Play tag
  • Make an indoor fort
  • Play hide n’ seek
  • Jump rope
  • Do yoga
  • Exercises

Or can you add going swimming after school, going to the basketball court, or ice rink in the winter? Your child or children can help with ideas then put them in a jar and have your child pick one every day.  Just give them time to be physically active then time to wind down.

For You

Adults need the same things, so looking into what is available in your community may be helpful. How about:

  • Walking/jogging trails
  • The YMCA
  • Are there local swimming pools? Many motels are now offering swimming pool service for a fee (some even include the exercise room)
  • Or look at adult education programs that involve exercise.  

Finally, if there are symptoms of depression or any serious mental health concerns please contact a mental health provider for assistance. For those who are still interested in learning more I have attached the following articles:



Author: Cynthia Booker-Bingler, LCSW, Health Affiliates Maine

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