Counseling Corner: Seasonal Affective Disorder

By Becky Iverson, UAS Counseling Services

If you’ve looked outside lately, you’ve no doubt noticed by now that the days are getting shorter and “termination dust” has been spotted on the mountains.  Winter is fast approaching and we all feel the inclination to hunker down and cozy up.  Its natural to feel that hibernation instinct this time of year, but when the old “winter blues” feel like much more than that, it could be Seasonal Affective Disorder.  

 Seasonal Affective Disorder, (SAD),  is a type of depression that is often characterized by fatigue, lack of interest in normal activities, social withdrawal, craving foods high in carbohydrates and weight gain.  Every Fall and Winter, thousands of us suffer from SAD.  It is widely accepted that the decreased exposure to the sunlight during the winter months is the main cause of SAD.

The good news is that SAD is treatable in most people.  “Light Therapy” is the preferred treatment for SAD.  Light Therapy involves daily exposure through the eyes to full spectrum light.  You can get this by going outdoors for approximately 30 minutes on days with sunlight or by exposing yourself to artificially produced full spectrum light.  You can loan out a SAD Light through the UAS Counseling Office or you  can purchase your own “SAD” light box in a price range of $40.00-80.00.  During a “session”, the individual sits in front of the light box with lights on and eyes open.  Never look directly at sunlight or any other form of full spectrum light.  Most people show improvement by using the light box in 15 to 30 minute increments. Individuals with cataracts or other eye problems should exercise caution in using light therapy.  It is best to get medical approval before doing so.  Individuals suffering from lupus or those with bi-polar disorder suffering a manic phase should not use light therapy.

  Other more affordable treatments for SAD include increasing your daily exercise, reduce your fat intake and  take daily vitamin D, (recommended dose 2000 IU).  Individuals should get as much natural light as possible, which might include:  allowing light to shine through your windows and doors, sitting in front of a south facing window for short but frequent periods during the day; rearranging work space to be near a window; sitting next to windows in classrooms  and arranging social outings to be outdoors when possible and walking or biking to class whenever possible.  Put your lights on a timer in the bedroom to switch on 30 minutes before awakening or use a “dawn simulator”. Installing brighter light bulbs is a relatively inexpensive and simple solution as well.  If these solutions do not provide relief from SAD symptoms, antidepressants are also available.  Please contact the Counseling or Health Center for appointments if you are concerned about SAD.


The following is a sample screening checklist* for SAD if you are concerned that you may be experiencing symptoms of SAD that go beyond the ordinary “winter blues”.

Recently, have you been experiencing :

Depressed mood(sad, blue, down)?

Loss of interest or pleasure in things?

Weight gain?


Craving for Carbohydrates?

Fatigue(low energy, unusually tired)?

Increased need for sleep?

Desire to withdraw from social activity?


Slowness in thinking, speech or actions?

Increased self-criticism or self-doubt?

Thoughts of suicide?

(*Checklist taken from University of Alaska Fairbanks)

If you responded to several of these items and you would like to explore methods of treatment, contact the Student Counseling Services at 796-6000.

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