Alternatives to Pharmaceutical Drugs for Treating Seasonal Affective Disorder

I find myself cringing at the thought of another winter approaching.  The darker days, less sunlight, cold temperatures, ice,putting on the parka and boots, does not make me feel overjoyed with the idea of winter.  Many of us are affected by the lack of sunlight and with the time change approaching quickly, one will be getting up in the dark and ariving home in the dark.  For many years melatonin appeared to be the one option that seemed to alleviate the problems associated with SAD.

For those of you not familar with what SAD ( Seasonal Affective Disorder) it is describes as such:

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is an extreme form of common seasonal mood cycles, in which depression develops during the winter months.

How seasonal changes cause depression is unknown, but most of the research into mechanisms and treatment has focused on changes in levels of the brain chemicals melatonin and serotonin in response to changing exposure to light and darkness.

SAD is characterized by typical symptoms of depression, such as sadness, hopelessness, and thoughts of suicide (in some cases), and �atypical� depressive symptoms such as excessive sleep, lethargy, carbohydrate cravings, overeating, and weight gain. The symptoms usually occur the same time of year, typically fall and winter, and disappear with the onset of spring and summer. (1)

There are several treatment options available other than pharmaceutical drugs.

Light Therapy

Light boxes used to treat SAD produce artificial  daylight. They filter out ultra-violent (UV) rays, which can be harmful to your  eyes and skin. Light intensity may vary, which affects the amount of time you  need to be exposed to it. In other words, it will take a longer time for a light  box with low intensity to produce any effects. Light boxes can help increase  your mood and regulate your sleeping, which is often disrupted during periods of  depression.  According to the Mayo Clinic, you need to be within 2 feet of the  light box with your eyes open for a minimum of 30 minutes for it to have any  impact on your depression. (2)

I have found light therapy to be advantageous on days that are overcast and cloudy limiting sun exposure.  It is easy to site in front of a lamp for 30 minutes per day while you read, write, watch television, blog or peruse the internet.


Essential oils are extracted from plants and have strong  aromas. Due to their potency, they are often not suitable for use directly on  your skin. However, their fragrant scents can be inhaled. Candles, sprays, reed  diffusers and oil warmers can all emit the aromas. Smelling jasmine, lavender,  rose and sandalwood can be therapeutic if you have mild depression, according to  Holistic Online, because these scents have soothing qualities. Bergamot,  lemongrass and rosemary also can be beneficial.(2)

Photo Credit she smells the jasmine flowers image by Alexandra Gnatush-Kostenko  from


I seem to be writing a great deal about yoga and I can say that it has helped me a great deal all year round.  If you suffer from stiffness in your body or suffer with arthritic conditions this is the type of activity for you.  With the differentt styles of yoga available there is one for every person.  Restorative yoga is one that I find beneficial in my daily life.  It also appears that yoga slows down the aging process and I have met people in their 80’s and older that would put me to shame.

Yoga is a relaxation technique for your body and mind.  It consists of controlled breathing, posing and meditation. According to the  National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, yoga may help with  depression by improving your mood and well-being by fighting off stress and  helping your muscles to relax. In the September 2010 issue of “The Journal of  Family Practice,” researchers state that the meditative aspect of yoga as well  as the physical component reduces self-reported symptoms of patients with  depression as effectively as anti-depressants or cognitive behavioral therapy  and more effectively than light therapy. (3)

Coffee is not often considered herbal in nature, but in fact, it is. The  caffeine contained in coffee is a stimulant and has a mild antidepressant  effect. It can cause agitation and insomnia in large doses.

Kava kava, an herb used ceremonially in the South Pacific, contains  kavalactones which provide sedative and anti-stress properties. It has been  shown to have anti-anxiety potential, but it should be used with caution due to  possible liver toxicity.

Add Omega-3 Fatty Acids to Your Diet

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center in the article Omega-3 Fatty Acids, people who do not eat enough omega-3 fatty acids on a regular basis are at more risk of suffering from depression than those who do eat enough. Omega-3 fatty acids are important components of nerve cell membranes and help nerve cells communicate with each other. Without proper communication between the nerve cells, mental health can suffer. You can add omega-3 fatty acids to your diet by eating cold-water fish such as salmon, tuna, herring or mackerel. Canola oil, flaxseed oil, flaxseeds and walnuts are also good sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Supplements are also available if you cannot get enough omega-3 fatty acids through the foods you eat. (4)

Herbal and Nutritional Supplements for SAD

Some herbal and nutritional supplements can help to alleviate the symptoms of SAD. The herbal supplement St. John’s wort can be effective in treating mild to moderate depression and anxiety. Another supplement, SAMe, can be effective in increasing serotonin and dopamine in the brain which affects mood. Melatonin, a natural hormone, also works well to regulate mood. Talk with your doctor before taking herbal or nutritional supplements especially if you are taking any prescription medications.(4)

Never underestimate the power of exercise in the treatment of SAD.  Even a brisk walk, dancing or doing some stretching exercises can be effective by releasing endorphins in your body that create a “natural high”.

Lotus Image:

Even if the sun is not shining perhaps one or more of these suggested therapies will find you smiling 🙂



(2). Holistic Online: Depression – Aromatherapy

(3). National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: The  Status of Yoga Research


5 thoughts on “Alternatives to Pharmaceutical Drugs for Treating Seasonal Affective Disorder

  1. Amy H. says:

    Interesting facts and treatments!

  2. Butterfly Jen says:

    Who knew coffee is a mild antidepressant? Fascinating post thanks.

  3. Marty says:

    Great piece Angi MK

  4. Christina Borden says:

    Great info. must try these to guard against the winter blues.

  5. ER says:

    Awesome read and thanks a bunch.

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