Sunday, December 03, 2006


Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) is a common issue for many of us in the northwest -- and especially during the fall and winter months.

In her poem, "February: Thinking of Flowers," Jane Kenyon writes:

"A single green sprouting thing / would restore me...."

I have felt this yearning almost every February of my life. Spring feels like it takes so long to arrive, and the tree buds, crocuses, and sunlight cannot come soon enough.

Those of us who do feel adversely affected by the lack of light during these dark months must find ways to compensate--to feel "green" inside.

I'd like to share a few of the ways I have tried to stay afloat during the S.A.D. months in my life:

  • Full-spectrum light therapy.* I have a 10,000 lux light therapy box and sit in front of it for 30-minutes to an hour for a mood "boost."
  • Dawn machine. This light box gives me a 45-minute dawn in the morning: the light gradually gets brighter in the morning, helping to wake my body gently.
  • Fresh foods. While my body craves carbohydrates this time of the year, fresh fruits and vegetables truly help me feel more energetic and vibrant. When I eat a colorful salad I imagine that I am consuming a bit of spring.
  • Walking. A very wise psychiatrist friend of mine advocates walking outside for at least 20-30 minutes every morning. Even when it is cloudy out, we still absorb the necessary light into our eyes.
  • Creativity. Express your S.A.D. through writing or art. One year I did a series of finger paintings depicting my frustration with the incessant cloudy days.
  • Sleep. I tend to want to over-sleep when I am depressed, but it is important to get plenty of uninterrupted sleep. So, I strike a balance. I allow myself a bit more hibernation sleep during the winter months, but if I do sleep in, I make sure to take a good, long walk in the morning.
  • Aromatherapy. I add fresh, vibrant scents to my baths and lotions. I tend to use the citruses -- grapefruit, mandarin orange, lemon, and tangerine. These scents wake me up and make me feel the energy of the sun.
When depressed it can be hard to do any of these things, so I try to be gentle on myself and praise myself for small accomplishments.

What do you do to keep yourself vibrant and healthy during the winter? I'd love to hear about your experiences.

*I now offer full-spectrum light therapy as a regular offering in my practice. For an additional charge, clients may add a 30-minute light therapy session, which includes an aromatherapy foot soak and a warm cup of tea.


Anonymous said...

How lovely Courtney! I get SAD in varying degrees throughout the winter myself. I have a light box which I need to find a place to set up and I'm working on getting this fabulous looking simulated sunrise alarm clock. I definitely relate to the wanting to hibernate all winter long though and how easy it is to talk yourself out of doing the positive things (ie, taking a walk) that you know will help you feel better.

Kristen Bergsman said...

Great tips! I'm going to eat more fresh veggies and fruit for a bite of spring.

Courtney Putnam said...

Yes -- turn on those light boxes, take some nice walks, and eat those bowls of spring!