138 W. 25th Street, Suite 618
New York City, New York 10001
“TIS THE SEASON FOR SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER (SAD)”.
By Dr. Art Bowler, Clinical Psychologist
Ever notice that during the winter months you don’t have as much “get up and go”? That during this time of year you aren’t as productive or creative? That you need more sleep and you want to eat more carbohydrates? Ever find that during the winter months your ability to concentrate and focus diminishes and you have more trouble getting out of bed? If so, you may be one of the thirty-six million Americans who are living with Seasonal Affective Disorder (abbreviated SAD), a legitimate clinical problem according to the National Institute of Health.
On the whole, Seasonal affective disorder seems to be more common in women (though men are being diagnosed in increasing numbers), and seems to be more common the farther someone lives from the Equator (where there is less exposure during this time of year to light). Typical symptoms of seasonal affective disorder are similar to those of clinical depression, but are often less severe. Symptoms include, but are not limited to, a depressed mood during the winter months, a change in appetite (often an increase in carbohydrate-seeking), an increase in one’s need/want for sleep, difficulty concentrating, decreased energy, and weight gain. What causes SAD and how is it treated? Please allow me to explain.
We are all aware that our moods and our behaviors are affected by many factors in life: lifestyle, families, , work, and relationships, to name a few. But something much larger than those factors continually impacts our functioning on a very biological level. It is something that hovers over us day in and day out each day of every year of our lives, whether we are aware of it or not: the sun.
Yes, the sun, or our exposure to its’ light, can impact our mood. When winter days become shorter and darkness more pronounced, the part of our brain that sets our internal biological clock begins to react to the change in light exposure. Our brains circadian rhythms, regulated by the timing and dosage of the light that hits our eyes’ retina, starts to increase its’ secretion of the hormone of hibernation, melatonin. Melatonin, associated with sleep, tends to increase levels of depression. In addition, in absence of light our brain begins to produce less of the “feel good” neurotransmitter related to mood regulation, serotonin. With less serotonin available, we tend to feel less relaxed, and more depressed, anxious, and irritable.
Rest assured, however. Treatment for SAD is available and effective. What is the trick? Move closer to the equator! Okay, maybe that’s note practice. If not, there are definitely steps you can take to get yourself feeling better.
First, one must make certain to have been diagnosed correctly by your medical doctor, psychiatrist, or psychologist. If your doctor, following your evaluation, finds you are an individual experiencing SAD, he or she will likely tell you to increase your exposure to sunlight either by going outside more frequently (if the sun is available) or by buying a special light box that emits simulated sunlight (called phototherapy) and sitting in front of it in the morning for about 45 minutes per day. Phototherapy has been studied and shows promising results in just a few weeks. Exercise, the natural antidepressant, is a great choice, and it will help enhance your motivation and energy. Sharing your feelings with those around you is also extremely important, and you must work to decrease isolation. Support helps. Psychotherapy is another option that can help people express their feelings, better understand their diagnosis, and gain strategies for coping. Sometimes antidepressant medications are called for that increase the amount of the neurotransmitter serotonin are very helpful in alleviating mood symptoms. And please, if at any point you become suicidal and your level of helplessness and hopelessness seems to overtake you, seek help immediately by calling 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.
If you find yourself experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder, you need not stay in the dark—you can still feel better when you “see the light”, even if the sun won’t come out tomorrow.
Dr. Art Bowler
Dr. Art Bowler is a licensed psychologist in private practice at 138 W. 25th Street in the Chelsea area of . Licensed in both and California, Dr. Bowler brings to his practice expertise gained from years of practice in private, university, inpatient, residential, non-profit, substance abuse, addiction, and recovery settings across the United States. Having completed his doctorate at and his internship at the , he has presented at national conferences and offered free community workshops on a variety of clinical topics. Dr. Bowler is an expert in crisis intervention and traumatic loss, and works to strategically engender change with his therapy clients. He is available for consultation at or on the web at www.drartbowler.com.
Copyright 2011 Dr. Art Bowler, Psy.D. All rights reserved.
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