The Dreaded “Winter Blues”
It’s that time of year again, November in Chicago, often a dark, cloudy, cold and dry month. However, the holiday season brings lots of good energy, and draws people closer together. January, following from the aftermath of an exhilarating and exhausting holiday season, is often when “cabin fever” sets in. On top of that, days are cold, short and gray, and nights are long and dry. The contrast into spring season makes life feel so positive and hopeful, but winter can move at a sluggish and dull pace. However, the post-holiday winter season can be beneficial for setting purposeful new-year resolutions, and working hard and completing major projects, since there is less to do outside. But for many people, winter season feels depressing and taxing on mood and energy.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder (mostly depression and during fall-winter seasons), often caused by reduced sunlight and its effects on hormones and circadian rhythms in the brain which regulate mood and sleep. Symptoms often include diminished energy, fatigue, social withdrawal, inefficiency, despair, excessive sleep, anhedonia (nothing feels fun anymore), over-eating, weight gain, and craving for carbohydrates.
Anxiety and stress can be regulated through stress management, but how do we regulate and reduce depression? Like anxiety, mood disorders are for a large part biochemical, although negative thinking and beliefs also play a role in depression. The challenge is that when we are moody, we see through “moody filters,” which distort our perception and zap our energy to change. However, there is much that can be done for depression, especially SAD. Medication is effective for reducing depression, but medication has side effects, and does not address every facet of the depression. What is needed is a protocol of natural approaches to be used with or without medication, for restoring health, vitality, happiness and purpose.
Health psychology views challenges such as SAD holistically, and sufferers of SAD as having potential to heal naturally, but with medication if needed. Natural approaches include social support, physical activity (particularly outdoors and especially whenever the sun is shining), diet and wellness counseling, adequate levels of vitamin D, stress management, biofeedback, and psychotherapeutic strategies to heal the mind. The treatment of choice for SAD is the light box, a lighting unit, which produces bright visible-spectrum light. The light box literally “lights up” the atmosphere in a manner similar to that of natural sunlight, with its supportive effects on health and well being. Research supports the efficacy for many individuals of regular use of a light box for helping reduce symptoms of SAD during the Fall- Winter seasons.
The light box emits bright, positive light, and 20-30 minutes of exposure is often all that is needed for achieving healing effects for many individuals with SAD. This time can be spent reading or enjoying any other activity close to the light box. In my office, I have a display model to show clients and interested individuals, and I offer a health consultation with holistic strategies to help heal SAD. Winter season may seem long, but why wait until spring to feel healthy and vibrant? Nature heals, and it heals all-year-round when all facets of a SAD depression are addressed and treated.