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Health and Wellness Blog: Dark Days, Dark Moods – Seasonal Affective Disorder

by Frannie Hartley Horn

Was there a collective groan emanating from Alabama on November 5, the day the clocks “fell back”?  The thought of an early darkness falling has limited appeal to anyone but bats.

When the days get shorter in the fall and winter, people often go through periods of feeling down, un-energized or sad.  Significant changes in your thoughts, moods or behaviors may indicate you are experiencing seasonal affective disorder, sometimes known as S.A.D.

The National Institute of Mental Health defines S.A.D. as a “type of depression characterized by a recurrent seasonal pattern, with symptoms lasting about 4−5 months out of the year.”  The NIMH identifies some symptoms of S.A.D. as:

  • Lingering sense of sadness
  • Feeling anxious
  • Feeling of worthlessness, hopelessness or helplessness
  • Difficulty concentrating, fatigue or decreased energy
  • Difficulty remembering or making decisions

While common with people with depression or other disorders, it is estimated that millions of Americans experience S.A.D.  It affects women more that men and may run in families.  While the cause of S.A.D. is unknown, studies indicate that reduced sunlight may affect the balance of brain chemicals, such as melatonin and serotonin, that help regulate mood.

Common treatments for S.A.D. include:

  • Light therapy
    • Broad-band light therapy can be used as a treatment option as S.A.D. symptoms may be a reaction to reduced sunlight. Light therapy involves exposure to artificial light using a light box or visor for periods of time.
  • Talk Therapy
    • Psychotherapy, particularly cognitive-behavioral therapy, can assist by reframing unhelpful thoughts.
  • Antidepressant medication
    • Discuss your feelings with your doctor. Keep a mood journal so you can accurately assist your provider in understanding the severity and duration of your symptoms.

Self-care activities that can reduce the symptoms of S.A.D. include:

  • Seek out and take advantage of available sunlight
  • Find time for exercise and physical activity to boost the release of helpful brain chemicals
  • Plan activities that you enjoy
  • Seek professional assistance from your doctor and/or therapist
    • Remember that the Alabama Bar offers every member 5 free hours of counseling!

See  NIMH » Seasonal Affective Disorder ( for more information about S.A.D. and solutions.

Frannie Hartley Horn, JD MA ALC NCC, holds a Special Membership in the Alabama State Bar and is a practicing therapist under the supervision of Carol Hollis-White, LPC-S.