Expert Advice

How Can I Manage Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Soothe your SAD with these natural remedies.
How Can I Manage Seasonal Affective Disorder?
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A psychiatrist says: Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that usually strikes in the fall or winter. Doctors believe SAD develops when neurotransmitters—especially the mood regulator serotonin and the “sleep hormone” melatonin—are disrupted by the shorter days and cooler temperatures.
The treatment: Try phototherapy with a SunBox light box ( or another suitable brand that reaches a luminosity of 10,000 lux (equal in intensity to the sunlight on a clear spring morning) and filters out UV rays. Sit at arm’s length from the box for 30 minutes each morning. Also, try walking in the early morning light for a half-hour every day. If symptoms persist, your doctor may recommend a supplement such as vitamin D, or an antidepressant if SAD is severe. — Ronald R. Parks, M.D., specialist in integrative psychiatry and medicine in Asheville, N.C.

An Ayurvedic physician says: In Ayurveda, SAD is considered an imbalance of the vata dosha. Cold, dry and changing weather patterns throw vata off balance, which disturbs the neurohormonal system, causing melancholy and depression.
The treatment: Daily use of the Ayurvedic herb Bacopa monnieri helps restore balance by improving concentration and alleviating anxiety. Massaging essential oils like cinnamon, jasmine and sandalwood above the eyebrows and at the crown of the head can improve circulation of prana, or life energy, and brighten your outlook. Finally, try this meditation: For five minutes each morning stare at and reflect on the color gold. The vibration of the color is similar to natural light and can build stability, as its hue is a balance between fire and earth. — Marc Halpern, D.C., author of Healing Your Life: Lessons on the Path of Ayurveda (Lotus Press)

A homeopath says: The symptoms of SAD vary from person to person but generally are caused by one’s bodily systems being affected by the change in season. While more prevalent in fall and winter, up to 2 percent of people have symptoms of summer SAD.
The treatment: If you’re irritable and isolated, try sepia, made from squid ink. If there’s no improvement, try Aurum metallicum (also known as metallic gold); it can help to calm depression. Phosphorus is a good choice if you feel worse on cloudy days, while Rhus tox relieves the stiffness often provoked by rain. And if you crave carbs, especially chocolate, you may be deficient in magnesium—a mineral involved in the synthesis of serotonin. Note that the key is to treat the dominant symptom, so you may have to change remedies frequently. — Gayle Eversole, D.Hom., Ph.D., M.H., N.P., N.D., founder of the Creating Health Institute based in the Pacific Northwest