The trick-or-treaters have come and gone, and the last landmark on the road out of summer has been passed. You have been feeling it coming for a few weeks now – the desire to sleep all the time, the mood swings, the cravings for sugar and carbohydrates. Maybe even a noticeable lack of interest in life, and a diminished vitality. Every year it comes and you dread it.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is real. During the winter months Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, may effect from 10 to 20 percent of the population, especially in northern states like Minnesota and Wisconsin. SAD is more commonly found in women than men and usually does not strike until age 20 or older. In the early 1980s the medical establishment began to take the condition seriously. Dr. Norman Rosenthal, a psychiatrist and research scientist, pioneered light-box treatment. But in the 25 years since, there have been few advances in treatments. Recently, holistic therapists have been offering new treatments that may help those who suffer with SAD.
Light-box treatments (bright-light therapy), the most common treatment, uses a device made of a bank of white fluorescent lights on a metal reflector. SAD sufferers must sit with the box for an extended period once or twice a day. Occasional mild side effects are caused by light-box treatment, including eyestrain, headache and insomnia. Some SAD sufferers find some limited relief from this treatment, yet some do not.
Some SAD sufferers have been prescribed drugs such as Prozac, Zoloft or Paxil – the second line of treatment. There are often serious and pronounced side effects to these drugs, including dizziness, drowsiness, sexual dysfunction, potential increased tendency toward depression and suicide, and complicated interactions with other drugs.
Side effects are only one reason that many SAD patients are turning to new holistic approaches to treat the disorder. Instead of simply using a light box or drugs, which for many gives only limited or temporary reprieve from symptoms, new holistic treatments combine the experiential, practical and spiritual in individually designed therapies.
New ways to see SAD
Why are some people so deeply affected by this, while others are able to embrace and even enjoy the darker months? As someone who is relied upon to be a provider of change and healing and a guide to the depths of the soul, I wanted to probe this phenomenon for its source. As a holistic health care provider, trained spiritual counselor and Ortho-Bionomy® practitioner, I felt compelled to explore the more profound implications of this seasonal disorder. The first step was to deeply question not only those on whom the season makes a negative impact, but also those who find great peace and solace in it. After a while, the dots began to connect and I was able to recognize patterns that led to an entirely new approach to SAD. The notion that I could bring insight and relief to so many who are in such distress was thrilling.
Across cultures and religions, people have always acknowledged the darkest time of the year. Holidays such as Durga Puja, Halloween and LailatUl-Qadr provide a venue for introspection and examination of the shadow self, Holidays during the winter months have in their very foundation the idea of "light within the darkness." This idea is not just culturally bound, it’s hard-wired into our psyches, so whether you’re observing Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice or the Hindu Dawali, that theme of "light" remains at the center of people’s lives. But then again, so does the idea of the darkness. The idea is to help people reconnect to this natural balance.
SAD surfaces at the darkest time of the year. In times past, people would acknowledge the yearly darkness with ceremonies and introspection. But, in the modern world, we’ve lost the art of introspection and replaced it with worry and depression. Learning to understand our shadow selves and to face our fears in a healthy way can give us the tools we need to overcome SAD.
New ways to address SAD
Although individuals find some relief from symptomatic treatment for their SAD, there hasn’t been much investigation into addressing the root causes. I have spent several turns of the calendar developing an approach to helping individuals with SAD. This includes both group and individual sessions to give a personalized approach to the distinct experience of each person.
The group aspect (which also can be conducted on an individual basis) consists of discussion, guided meditation and ritual explorations. These rituals are not religiously based ceremonies. They are used to touch the deepest parts of the human psyche. Tools such as meditation techniques and dietary information also are shared.
Individual concerns are addressed through deeper consultation and the application of practices that include individual rituals such as ritual baths, custom-blended flower remedies and Ortho-Bionomy®, a body-mind therapy that acknowledges, exaggerates and reflects the individual’s physical and energetic pattern to bring about self-correction and healing on a deep and lasting level. In addition, assessment is done on the pattern indicated by individual symptoms, and personalized assistance offers suggestions for diet, herbal supplements and additional therapies.
For some people, light box treatment, or even walking an hour a day in the winter sun, can do wonders in the struggle against SAD. But other people need something more. SAD can be a serious matter for many people, disrupting lives, work – even their physical health. What’s good is that the field of medicine is taking this condition seriously. What’s not so good is that often, traditional treatments are not enough. For those people, there are now alternative treatments that can have long lasting positive effects. Life, even in the depth of winter, can be worth living again.
New Ways to cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder
Here is a quick list of new ways to approach your personal relationship to the Dark Time of the year. Create a space that is sacred whenever you need to feel whole and healthy, and try any or all of these new ways to cope. Be sure to give them adequate time to take effect.
Make a point of addressing your spiritual needs. When you’re not full of energy, it seems like one more thing that you can’t manage, but the benefits are worth it. One of the challenges is to make sure you do something that is spiritually meaningful to YOU. Go to church, celebrate the turn of the seasons or the harvest, build an altar, do something to acknowledge your ancestors or those who have passed from your life recently.
Spend quality time alone each day. The common wisdom is to not spend time alone with SAD. Be sure you schedule your alone time. Plan a pleasant, rewarding activity for that time so it is not misspent. Read, go for a solo walk, start a research project, explore your family tree, cook up a mess of chili for the freezer.
Spend time with others every day. This is the balance to the former suggestion. This does not necessarily mean you have to attend a lot of parties or social events. It does mean go to work, talk to your co-workers, volunteer somewhere once or twice a week. Take a class. You gain energy by quality social interaction with others.
Learn a meditation technique. There are many different ways of meditating. Find one that appeals to you and try it for a week or two. Feel free to experiment, but give each one 7-14 days before trying another. This will give you some time to feel comfortable with it. Give a fair chance. Do it every day.
Avoid refined carbohydrates. This is relatively common knowledge, but you need to know how to stop the cravings. Some individuals are helped by the addition of carbohydrates, but if you want to consume carbs, make sure they’re of the whole grain variety – sprouted grains if possible. If you add more energy-accessible, and energy-dense, food to your diet, such as stews, soups or meat, you will need the quick shots you get from sugars and refined carbs less often and you will avoid the "crashes" afterwards. Eat warm things, and cut back on cold salads.