Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects millions of people each year. It's four times more likely to be found in women than men and is most common in the 24-40 age range. It is characterized by overwhelming feelings of depression during the winter months. Some symptoms include: mental confusion, inability to concentrate, procrastination, difficulty with small tasks, feelings of helplessness, overeating (usually heavy, starchy foods), restless sleep, low sex drive, and an overall withdrawal from the world. Physical symptoms such as backaches, muscle and joint aches and headaches are common.
Geographical studies of patients with SAD indicated that the disorder is more prevalent the further north the subject lived. For example, one study showed that an estimate of 1.4% of the population near the equator was afflicted with SAD. The percent rose in accordance with the latitude and indicated a figure of 10.2 % in Canada. Further research into the cause of the disease has shown altered brain chemical levels in those suffering from SAD. It has been found that the SAD patient’s chemical levels approach the normal levels during the summer months or when moved into an atmosphere with greater amounts of light.
Conventional treatment for SAD sufferers involves light therapy. Patient brain chemicals are nearer normal levels after spending time in front of light boxes with full-spectrum fluorescent light bulbs. Although this type of treatment works for some SAD patients, some experience side effects. This treatment requires patients to sit in front of light boxes for numerous hours per day (depending on severity of the symptoms). Not only does this treatment take up a lot of the patient’s time, but many report adverse side affects such as: headaches, eyestrain, irritability, overactivity, and insomnia (due to a “wired” feeling) and skin sensitivity problems such as rashes. Another conventional treatment for SAD is prescription anti-depressants. The concern over this method of treatment is with the inability to accurately predict dosage requirements. Because patient brain chemical levels fluctuate with weather conditions, it is almost impossible for doctors to prescribe medication amounts that will consistently combat the disorder. Unfortunately, the result is that patients are often over and under- medicated as the weather conditions vary.
Hypnotherapy is an effective alternative treatment for SAD victims. Hypnosis can be used to balance the brain chemical levels to a level consistent with those found in the same client during the summer months or during adequate lighting conditions. Facilitating the client in a creative visualization experience involving a sun-filled atmosphere can create physiological responses consistent with those experienced with actual sun exposure. Similarly, the psychological effects associated with the visualized sunlight exposure can create a mindset comparable to that during the summer months.
Other suggestions can be given to help the client deal with the daily effects of SAD. Establishing set goals and giving motivational suggestions can help the client accomplish necessary tasks. Suggestions for sound sleep, healthy eating habits, and an increased ability to concentrate, can improve the client’s ability to maintain a typical lifestyle. Through hypnosis, SAD sufferers can experience positive moods, thoughts, and emotions independent of seasons and lighting conditions. Confidence and self-esteem suggestions can further help the client form a positive self-concept and optimistic outlook. Through the use of these ideas the hypnotist can effectively facilitate the client in finding inner happiness and uncovering a beautiful, glowing, internal sunshine.
Jennifer K. Gray, BA, C.Ht. is the director of The Inner Journey, a hypnotherapy practice in the Boston area. She can be reached by email: