Help for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Every fall and winter I get a slew of patients dealing with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). I see symptoms ranging from the mild—lower energy level, slight loss of concentration—to full blown symptoms—debilitating depression, increase in sleep, weight gain, and social withdrawal. Acupuncture and herbal therapy greatly help with seasonal affective disorder. I also recommend the following simple strategies that help alleviate wintertime depression.

Exercise differently: Our exercise needs may change with the seasons. Most people have more energy during the summer months and feel invigorated by strenuous cardiovascular workouts. In the winter? Maybe not so much. If you feel even more fatigued after your workouts, you are probably doing too much, and might need to move to lower intensity workouts. Also, you might need to adjust the time of day that you exercise. If you are feeling especially tired in the mornings, getting up earlier for a morning workout might help boost your early and mid day energy levels. If you are routinely experiencing an afternoon slump, exercising sometime between noon and four is often the best remedy.

Modify sleep schedule: I get more complaints about fatigue during the winter than any other part of the year. But I’ve also noticed that most people try to sleep the same number of hours despite the change in the seasons. Getting seven hours of sleep may be sufficient in the summer, but as the days get shorter, we need more sleep. Modify your bedtime routine to add in an extra hour of sleep every night, and see how your body responds to the extra rest.  I’ll bet that you’ll feel less fatigued and blue.

Light therapy: Full spectrum light boxes have become much more affordable in recent years, and are now carried in places like Target and Walmart. The key to light therapy? Use it every morning at the exact same time for 15-20 minutes. Some research has suggested that it is best to have the light box above your face because the receptors in our eyes that catch sun rays are on the lower back region of our eyes.

Vitamin D: More and more doctors are finding that people living in the Pacific NW are deficient in Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency can lead to many serious illnesses, but it also contributes to fatigue and depression.  A simple blood test can check your vitamin D levels, and Vitmain D supplements are inexpensive and easily tolerated without GI upset.

Fish oil: Larger doses of fish oil are often used to treat depression. Because of the heavy metal toxicity found in fish, it’s important supplement with a high quality fish oil. We carry and recommend Nordic Naturals. Consult your acupuncturist or doctor to see if this is appropriate for you.

Dietary changes: Many people eat the same food year round. But I’ve found that our bodies do best when eating according to the food that is locally in season. For the northwest, it would mean forgoing salads in favor of root stews and steamed kale. Avoid frozen or cold foods in lieu of warming meals. To learn more about dietary choices that are in harmony with the seasons, read my previous posts on fall and winter eating.

Chinese Herbs: Herbal therapy can greatly help with seasonal depression. Talk to your acupuncturist or a certified herbalist to learn how herbs may be used safely and appropriately for your specific needs.


All and One Acupuncture in located in Northeast Portland and focuses on holistic family healthcare.  Contact us at (503) 281-6909 for a free consultation or for a referral to another acupuncturist in your area.

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