Are you feeling SAD?

By Grace Cherian Do the biting cold winter winds get you down? The huge piles of dirty snow? Navigating the icy sidewalks that turn you into a skater,...

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By Grace Cherian

Do the biting cold winter winds get you down? The huge piles of dirty snow? Navigating the icy sidewalks that turn you into a skater, albeit not a very graceful one?

On winter mornings, do you find it difficult to get out of bed? Wish you could curl up under the blankets and forget about your responsibilities?

Well, I must confess I tend to feel this way during the winter months. For decades I had no idea why. Then I heard a term being tossed around. I dug deep into library books and researched the topic. What is this word I’m hinting at? It’s called seasonal affective disorder or SAD for short.

What is SAD? It is a form of depression that becomes worse during the darker winter months when you’re exposed to less sunlight and it returns each year at roughly the same time.

Cells in the retina of your eye respond to varying levels of light. A pacemaker-like structure in the brain controls some of the body’s rhythms—one of which is to produce the hormone, melatonin. Melatonin levels rise in the evening, inducing sleep, and fall in response to morning light.

If you have SAD, however, your body clock, doesn’t adjust to winter’s later dawns and earlier sunsets. The decreased sunlight affects your melatonin levels, and consequently, your mood and energy during waking hours.

How can you manage SAD?

1. Light Therapy
You can get a special light therapy box with fluorescent lights mounted on a metal reflector. The light box is fitted with a plastic screen to filter out damaging ultra-violet frequencies. Light therapy is uniquely (though not universally) effective in treating SAD.

Light boxes will work best when you sit near them at a prescribed distance and height, keeping your eyes open and looking ahead or slightly downward.

Experts usually recommend about 10,000 lux which is more or less equivalent to early morning sunlight. During the fall, fifteen minutes of 10,000-lux light once a day, right after waking, may suffice. Light exposure can gradually be increased to 30–45 minutes per session. If you struggle with severe SAD, you may need to expose yourself longer to the light, perhaps up to about an hour and a half per day in two sessions. If your symptoms don’t improve in 4–6 weeks, you need to re-evaluate light therapy and consider other measures.

Keep in mind that light therapy may have some side effects: mainly headache, fatigue, irritability and eyestrain. These usually subside when you lower the dose, i.e., shorten your sessions or increase the distance from the light source. If you struggle with bipolar disorder, you may develop mania as a result of light therapy. Anyone with photosensitive skin or a retinal condition, such as macular degeneration or a diabetes-related problem, should not use light therapy.

2. Aromatherapy
Essential oils can stimulate specific areas of your brain to release serotonin. Serotonin has become popularly known as the “feel-good hormone” or the body’s own natural tranquilizer. When your body produces serotonin, you help to alleviate the symptoms of SAD.

Oils most commonly used to relieve SAD include bergamot, frankincense, geranium, chamomile, lavender, marjoram and citrus-derived oils. By inhaling the oils, you most effectively stimulate your brain and limbic system.

3. Exercise and Deep Breathing
Exercise and deep breathing are critical for elevating your mood. Through outdoor exercise, you gain the bonuses of fresh air and sunlight, even on a cold, cloudy day.

4. Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids. A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids may help lower triglycerides and increase high density lipo-proteins, HDL (also known as good cholesterol). Omega-3 fatty acids work just as well as antidepressants in preventing depression and they do so without the dangerous side effects of antidepressant drugs.

Big pharmaceutical companies hate to hear that omega-3 fatty acids prevent depression. Of course, they just want to sell more antidepressants. They will naturally attempt to discredit the health effects of fish oils through scientists or industries funded by pharmaceutical companies.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish (most abundantly in oily species like salmon and tuna) and cod liver oil. But almost all fish now have dangerously high mercury levels. The risk of mercury to your health, therefore, now outweighs the benefits of omega-3 from fish.

But Carlson’s is one of the few brands that is free of mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), is properly processed and contains a therapeutic dose of vitamin E that prevents the oil from going rancid in your body. Buy Carlson’s fish or cod liver oil from your local health food store.

To your health!

Grace Cherian is a natural health copywriter. You may visit her website at