As the Days Get Shorter

Musicians' Assistance Program

Volume CVIII, No. 10October, 2008

Cindy Green, LCSW

As summer turns into fall, we can look forward to cooler weather — often a welcome relief from the summer heat. But as the days become shorter it also means that we have less exposure to sunlight. With this change in season, it is not unusual to find ourselves experiencing a change in mood, a feeling of sadness or even tiredness. While most people experience these symptoms to some extent, for some people these feelings are more severe and are symptoms of a syndrome called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). 

There are several theories as to the cause of SAD. One is that reduced exposure to sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock, causing depression. Some researchers theorize that SAD may be linked to melatonin, a hormone that has been linked to depression, which often increases during the long winter evenings.

Reduced light can also cause a reduction of serotonin, which is a natural brain chemical that affects mood, possibly leading to depression.

Because symptoms of SAD are so closely related to depression it is important to receive an accurate diagnosis. Whether you have SAD or just the “winter blues,” there are several ways to cope with the coming fall and winter seasons. 

Stress management and relaxation techniques are key when dealing with feelings of depression. Practicing meditation and deep breathing exercises can help manage feelings of stress in our lives. Deep breathing slows the heart rate, focuses the mind and relaxes the muscles.

Set time aside when you won’t be disturbed and maybe even find a partner who can share your practice. Early morning is a great time to practice meditation when the stress of the day has not yet set in. You’ll be set up to better manage the day’s pressures. 

Exercising and making other healthy choices are good ways to manage stress. You don’t have to join a gym to find ways to exercise. There are low-cost and free ways that you can build into your daily routine.

For example, you can get off the subway or the bus one or two stops early and walk a few extra blocks to your destination. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. If you’re going to a higher floor, take the elevator halfway up and take the stairs the rest of the way. Or if you drive, try finding a parking space at the far end of the lot or several blocks away from the building where you are going.

Yoga and tai chi are also great ways to exercise and offer a sense of being centered and mindful. Check out for free yoga and tai chi classes in the city. 

Eat and sleep well. Be mindful of food choices. Low-fat, high-fiber foods are healthy. Fruits and vegetables are smart snack choices.

Also make sure you get adequate sleep. Sleep deprivation can precipitate depressive mood symptoms and make it difficult to manage demanding schedules. 

In addition to general stress management, there are some habits you can develop specific to managing SAD.

First, let there be light. Make your home and daytime workspace as bright and sunny as possible. Sunlight is known to improve symptoms, lift your mood and relieve symptoms of depression by causing biochemical changes in the brain. Open the blinds and shades of your homes, offices or rehearsal spaces during the daylight hours if possible. Try to be awake during as many daylight hours as you can so that you can take advantage of the light. 

Spend time outdoors. Especially in the fall when temperatures are still comfortable, spend time in the park, the riverside or just walking around town. In the winter, you can bundle up and still benefit from the fresh air, staying warm by walking faster. 

If you feel like you’ve tried everything but nothing has been effective, there are other treatments available. These include medication, light therapy and talk psychotherapy.

For more information about SAD, visit us at the Musician’s Assistance Program. We can work together to decide on how best to approach your concerns. We’re located on the sixth floor of the Local 802 building. For more information, click here.