Seasonal Affective Disorder

What You Need to Know


With the holiday season behind us and the dark, cold days of winter in full swing, you may find yourself feeling more down than usual. If so, know that you are not alone. Many people this time of year suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or the “winter blues”.

Likely the most appropriate psychology acronym, SAD is a type of depression that occurs at the same time every year, often beginning in late fall and continuing throughout winter. The symptoms of SAD range from moodiness and anxiety to social withdrawal, excess sleep and weight gain.  Although the specific causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder are unknown, it is believed that the lack of sunlight throughout the winter months plays a vital role. Reduced levels of sunlight can interfere with your body’s internal clock, often causing a drop in Serotonin and triggering signs of depression.

If you or someone you know seems particularly depressed this time of year, do not lose hope. Let’s take a look at some of the methods used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Light therapy – The most common treatment for SAD, light therapy boxes mimic natural outdoor light, producing a chemical change in the brain that eases depression symptoms and improves your mood. The units range in price and intensity and are available over-the-counter at many pharmacies. Many people find that sitting in front of a light therapy box for as little as 30 minutes per day can have a profound effect.

The great outdoors – Though it may be the last thing you want to do, especially when it’s snowing, the benefits you receive from spending time outside in nature far outweigh cold toes. Research shows that just a brief walk outside can provide your body with enough Vitamin D to improve your mood, even on cloudy days. My advice is to gather what you need to stay warm and dry and to force yourself outside—even if it’s just to walk your dog around the block.

Exercise – Need a quick way to lift your spirits? Break a sweat! Exercise improves blood flow, pumps your body with feel-good endorphins and acts as a natural stress reducer. If exercising in the cold is not for you, join a gym during the winter and find a workout buddy who will help encourage you and hold you accountable.

Seek help – As with other forms of depression, it is important to be honest with your doctor about your feelings. People struggling with SAD often enter springtime feeling frustrated and overwhelmed by setbacks they experienced during the winter months, such as unfinished work or weight gain. Instead of simply enduring the affects of SAD each year, be proactive about getting help.

David Lowenstein, Ph.D. is a Psychologist and the Clinical Director of Lowenstein & Associates, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to providing therapeutic services to individuals and families, he offers training and consultation to numerous associations, schools and agencies around the country. Additionally, he is a frequent radio and TV guest and a resource and contributing writer for numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide.

Contact Dr. David Lowenstein at 691 South Fifth Street
Columbus, OH 43206 or by phone at 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.