Pittsburgh has a reputation for many wonderful things – economic resiliency, a beautiful environment with our famous three rivers and the surrounding hills, our sports teams, the open hearts of our citizens. One thing though that Pittsburgh is famous for, at least with anyone who is ever lived a full year here, is our climate of overcast days in fall, winter, and early spring.  

The gray days often bring with them the symptoms of SAD, especially as the days themselves get shorter.  SAD is a mood disorder often called “winter blues” and seems to be especially prevalent here. Given the creativity of our citizens in the face of economic disaster, I was surprised to realize that most Pittsburghers consider winter blues merely something to be tolerated during these dark days.

SAD is a form of seasonal depression, the symptoms for which can range from mild sluggishness to serious inability to function in daily life and relationships.  Aside from the fact that SAD is self-limiting — in other words, it will improve when the days brighten and lengthen, the good news related to a serious case of winter blues is that there are many effectives steps you can take to lessen or even eliminate these miseries.  

How to Recognize SAD
Do any of the following sound familiar to you?

  • When the dark days of winter approach, do you feel sluggish and slow? Is it a struggle to get out of bed each morning?
  • Do you have difficulty focusing at work or in relationships, feel down in the dumps, or, worse still, get really depressed?
  • Does it get harder than ever to stick to a healthy diet and control your weight?  Do you crave carbohydrate-heavy foods?

These are typical symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.  The onset often coincides with the holidays and many people think their symptoms are related to the stress of the season.  While there is probably truth in that, the depth of the misery caused by SAD comes to stay until spring.  

Self-Help for SAD
SAD was first identified and treated at the National Institutes of Health in the late 1980s.  There, Dr. Norman Rosenthal developed the gold standard of treatment which is the use of special strong lights.  Since that time, it has been recognized that the best method of treating SAD is to  be proactive and to put into practice a number of preventive measures to keep SAD under control until the days lengthen again.  Preventive measures include being self-aware, getting regular exercise, taking time outdoors, managing food cravings, being nice to yourself, the use of CBT (cognitive behavior therapy) and light therapy and, if necessary, antidepressants.

Of the various treatments tried, CBT has been found to be the most effective for developing skills which will keep SAD at bay year after year.  

SAD Support Group Scheduled
Beginning in January, Balanced Heart Healing Center will conduct an 8-week support group teaching the participants how to plan for the winter season and use CBT to most effectively to manage symptoms.  These skills can still be effective even if SAD has begun to affect your life this winter.  Participants will learn skills for:

  • recognizing SAD from its earliest appearance in late autumn
  • identifying thought patterns that put participants at greatest risk for depression
  • lifting mood and improving outlook
  • developing a personal rewards system to reinforce progress through the winter season.

This group will meet on Tuesday evenings at BHHC, 3145 Scenic Drive, Mars, PA.  Call Dr. Katie McCorkle at  (724)776-5534 to register for the SAD support group.

For additional information about SAD and to register on-line, follow this link to Balanced Heart Health Center