Why Seasonal Affective Disorder Literally Makes You SAD

SAD is an acronym for Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a cause of depression for many in the winter months

Why Seasonal Affective Disorder Makes People Sad

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a recurrent type of clinical depression that affects about 5% of the population according the American Psychiatric Association, mostly in the winter months when the days are shorter, and mostly among women (about four times as much, actually). Symptoms include:

  • Low energy
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Poor concentration
  • Sadness
  • Changes in sleep and appetite
  • Irritability
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Feelings of worthlessness

People with SAD tend to be tired all the time, and some report craving carbohydrates and weight gain. Treatments include light therapy, anti-depressants, Vitamin D, and counseling.

SAD Explained

But what is really happening with our minds and bodies to cause all of these symptoms? The cause seems to stem from two hormones - serotonin and melatonin. People with SAD have trouble regulating the neurotransmitter serotonin—which is responsible for balancing mood. People have a protein that assists with serotonin transport called SERT. When SERT is high, that means serotonin activity is low—leading to depression. Sunlight typically keeps SERT low, but as sunlight decreases, a decrease in serotonin activity also occurs. Based on a Johns Hopkins article describing SAD, people with this disorder also overproduce melatonin, which most people know is used to help sleep. Thus, people with SAD feel lethargic and sleepy. Decreased Serotonin and increased Melatonin impact circadian rhythms. Additionally, Vitamin D is often deficient—and low Vitamin D is associated with clinically depressive Symptoms.

Treatment Options

light therapy products can help fight the effects of SAD (seasonal affective disorder)We mentioned a few treatment options like anti-depressants, vitamin D and counseling. But one of the most commonly used treatments is called Light Therapy, or Bright Light Therapy. These products, which you can find online, emit full spectrum light similar to sunlight-but without UV rays. Whichever one you select should provide exposure of 10,000 lux of light. This makes these light boxes approximately 20 times stronger than indoor lighting. Light therapy is typically used first thing in the morning for anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes. The Mayo Clinic has a wonderful light therapy product buying guide.


Be sure to follow the manufacture’s guidelines when using. People should not use light therapy if they have retinal disease such as macular degeneration. It is also not recommended for those on certain medications, such as Lithium, Acutane, Melatonin, and certain anti-biotics. Light therapy is not recommended for those with BiPolar Disorder unless recommended by a professional. Light therapy should be monitored by a health professional. Taking Vitamin D can also help SAD. Low Vitamin D is associated with depression due to insufficient dietary intake or little outdoor exposure to sunshine.

Other Options

The Johns Hopkins research also indicates that you can mitigate SAD symptoms by doing the following:

  • Set attainable goals, consider breaking down tasks and make reasonable priorities. Feeling better will take time, so set that expectation with yourself
  • Accept help and support from friends and family
  • Get regular exercise and eat healthy, well-balanced meals
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs since these can make depression worse

Final Thoughts, From Dr. Pam Wright

Clients often ask me how to know the difference between major depressive disorder and SAD. I tell them to think of SAD as a recurrent depression. So if you typically have depressive symptoms at the same time each year (starting during the winter months), you most likely have SAD. I highly recommend light therapy for those with SAD. I use a light myself during the winter months. It’s best to use the light first thing in the morning for 20 to 60 minutes. This helps to reduce melatonin and increase serotonin.

Dr. Pam Wright is a licensed psychologist and mental health expert. She is the founder and owner of The Life Change Group in Peachtree City, Ga.Dr. Pam Wright is a licensed psychologist and a mental health expert. She is the Founder and Director of The Life Change Group in Peachtree City, Ga. Her psychology practice is a team of therapists, counselors and psychologists offering a wide range of psychological testing and individual, couples and family counseling. Dr. Wright is also a co-host of the "Middle Age(ish)" podcast and has appeared on NBC in Atlanta.

Stress and Anxiety Secret Weapon – Breathe!

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Breathing is the secret weapon to reducing stress and anxiety. Learn the techniques from Dr. Pam Wright and the therapists and counselors at The Life Change Group

The Secret Weapon

Do you know the stress and anxiety secret weapon? There are a lot of strategies and suggestions for how to reduce stress and overcome anxiety (the Anxiety & Depression Association of America has a great list), but one of the most overlooked and under-appreciated things you can do is breathe. The problem is that many people don't know how or take the time to breathe properly. 🌬️💆‍♂️💆‍♀️

There is a great scene in the movie "Everafter" (shout out to Drew Barrymore and her portrayal of Cinderella) where the main character walks into a giant ballroom filled with glaring and judging attendees. All eyes turn to look as she enters the room. She takes a moment, calms herself and says "breathe, just breathe". The scene didn't lock up any Oscars for Barrymore, but the concept is exactly on point. Intentional and mindful breathing are scientifically proven to have a profound impact on reducing stress and anxiety levels. Here's how breathing can be your secret weapon too.

How to breathe 🧘‍♂️

There's actually a specific way to breathe when you want to calm yourself. By focusing on your breath, you engage your body's relaxation response, calming the nervous system and promoting a sense of well-being. One of the most popular ways to do this is the use the 4-7-8 breathing technique, popularized by Dr. Andrew Weil. It's a simple yet effective method that anyone can follow using these simple steps:

  • First, let your lips part. Make a whooshing sound, exhaling completely through your mouth.
  • Next, close your lips, inhaling silently through your nose as you count to four in your head.
  • Then, for seven seconds, hold your breath.
  • Make another whooshing exhale from your mouth for eight seconds.
  • Repeat as necessary (you'll usually recognize a difference in your mental state after 5-7 breaths, but do what feels right for you)

Box breathing, where you inhale, hold, exhale, and pause for equal counts, is another popular technique. The key for both is purposefully taking measured beats to inhale, hold and exhale. Take a minute and try it. Or watch this breathing video for a quick example.

Why do the 4-7-8 and box breathing techniques work? 🤷‍♀️

According to the Harvard Business Review, "When we are in a highly stressed state, our prefrontal cortex — the part of our brain responsible for rational thinking — is impaired, so logic seldom helps to regain control. This can make it hard to think straight with your team. But with breathing techniques, it is possible to gain some mastery over your mind." Proper breathing helps regulate the autonomic nervous system, balancing the sympathetic (fight-or-flight) and parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) responses. This balance promotes relaxation, reduces stress hormones, and fosters a sense of calm. Studies have suggested that slow, deep breathing can lower cortisol levels. Cortisol, known as the stress hormone, can be effectively managed by incorporating techniques that engage the diaphragm and promote relaxation.

How do I get started?Diaphragmatic breathing is a secret weapon against stress and anxiety

Here are a few steps to get started:

  • Pay attention to your breath. It sounds weird at first, but notice how it feels. Recognize what your body is doing - how your lungs fill with air, how your chest raises and then lowers when the air is exhaled.
  • Practice diaphragmatic breathing—inhaling deeply into your abdomen.
  • Really practice. Good breathing techniques don't come natural to us, so take the time figure out what works for you
  • Recognize when you're shallow breathing. Shallow breathing is when you inhale

What other secret weapons are there?

In addition to these breathing techniques, progressive muscle relaxation can be added to release tension. Either way, consistency is paramount to training your body to respond to stress. So be intentional with your breathing and practice. Our clients have found a lot of success by taking time each day - just a few minutes - to remove all distractions and focus on practicing their breathing. While deep breathing is beneficial for relaxation, it's not necessary to do it constantly. Incorporate deep breathing exercises into your routine, especially during stressful moments, to enjoy the calming effects.

Final Thoughts

With all the ways that you can reduce stress - and there are a ton of products, processes and ideas - one of the easiest and free ways is proper breathing. Remember, the journey to stress relief begins with each intentional breath. Experiment with different techniques to discover what works best for you, and embrace the power of mindful breathing on your path to a calmer, more centered life. 💙 #BreatheWell #StressReliefJourney


Teen Stress at an All-Time High

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teen stress is at an all-time high. Dr. Pam Wright from The Life Change Group provide statistics and ways to help teens deal with stress more effectively

Teen Stress is at an All-Time High

Gen Z teens today are 30% more stressed out than millennials were at the same age. According a recent Gallup poll, "Gen Z members note 'thriving' at a 41% rate compared to a 60% rate from millennials. APA CEO, Arthur Evans thinks today's teens may just be more tuned into their mental health. That may be a part of it, but stats from a Zogby poll last year indicate that youth face a lot more stressors too.

The PYD (Positive Youth Development) framework illustrates that to achieve the vision of healthy, productive and engaged youth, kids must better use their assets, contribution, agency and enabling environments

  • 54% are “aware of someone who has been bullied because of their race, sexual orientation, or income level”
  • 58% “personally know someone who has considered self-harm or suicide
  • 40% of Gen Z students said they worried a lot or some about gun violence at their school

Even parents are seeing the spike. A RethinkFirst survey noted three-quarters of polled parents observed one or more of these emotions in their child during the last school year." This rate is more than double what was previously reported. Whatever the reason, teens are escalating their problems and letting it be known that stress and anxiety, and overall mental health, is a big concern. So what can be done?

There are several existing models - the 5A's and 5C's are good places to start from a broad level, but many psychologists and therapists gravitate towards variations of the PYD (Positive Youth Development) framework. Here's how it works:

  • Assets - help kids build stronger interpersonal skills (get them off their phones)
  • Contribution - encourage play and interaction with other teens
  • Enabling Environment - actively listen to your teen and create bonding opportunities
  • Agency - encourage them and give them a chance to use their voice (figuratively and literally)

We were all teens once. It's a confusing, chaotic and just a weird time of everyone's life. It can be stressful, but it doesn't have to be over-whelming and there are actions that we as friends, parents, teachers and community leaders can take to make a difference.

Life After Diagnosis Coping Group

Life After Diagnosis breast cancer support group at The Life Change Group

Life After Diagnosis Coping Group

Life after diagnosis is a reality. But it doesn't soften the words "you have cancer" - they can hit harder than you can possibly imagine. For patients they are as real and scary as you can imagine. Time seems to stop as you try and process what this means. For friends and family those carry a different but still difficult burden. It's still the same question - what will this mean. But there is life after diagnosis and we want to be a part of your journey.

At The Life Change Group in Peachtree City, we are starting a support group focused on Life After Breast Cancer Diagnosis. This will be an eight-week group starting on Tuesday, January 16 and running once a week (on Tuesdays) through March 5, 2024.

Key Details

  • Group Guide: Dr. Danyella Greene (Psychologist, Ph.D.)
  • When: Tuesdays from 4-5pm ET
  • Dates: COMING SOON
  • Location: 302 Stevens Entry, Peachtree City, GA 30269
  • Contact: 770-486-4887 (ask for Dr. Greene)

Our Guide

Danyella will also be our guide on this journey as we tackle the common fears post-diagnosis, discuss the prospect of altered femininity, and the seismic shift in life’s trajectory. In the safety of the private group's shared experiences, we will find that we are not alone in our journeys.

What to Expect

The atmosphere for these sessions is non-judgmental, fostering trust and vulnerability. Bonds formed in previous support groups have often proven to be some of the strongest. The support group will typically transcend its role as a coping mechanism; it usually becomes a lifeline, connecting women with an unspoken understanding that only those who have faced similar battles can comprehend.

We hope that you can join us at Life After Diagnosis for Breast Cancer survivors at The Life Change Group with Dr. Danyella Greene.


Resilience Helps Trauma Recovery

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the image of a purple flower pushing through the concrete is an example of resilience. This is representative of the resilience that people demonstrate when recovering from trauma

The Surprising Science Behind Resilience and Trauma:

Resilience has surprising scientific powers.

As a former news reporter, we were always taught "if it bleeds, it leads". Click or swipe anywhere online and you'll see that adage still holds true. But I think there is a growing population that loves a good comeback story even more. The down and out family recovers from losing everything to gaining fame and fortune. The high school athlete suffers a catastrophic injury only to heal, persevere through therapy and win the gold. The stories and movies are endless.

The best comeback stories are when people show their true grit and resilience to overcome their obstacle, pain or trauma. There's actually scientific proof to show why resilience is a key to recovering from trauma. Having and demonstrating resilience is so powerful and could become a key treatment to recovering from all kinds of trauma and stress.

Understanding the Science of Resilience

Resilience, in psychological terms, refers to the ability to bounce back from adversity and adapt positively to life's challenges. Studies have shown that being exposed to these types of stories can enhance your well-being. This includes being able to increase self awareness, self control, openness with others, and better decision-making while also being associated with decreasing anxiety.

Dr. Steven Southwick, a professor of psychiatry at Yale University, explains in his book "Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life's Greatest Challenges", that resilience is not a fixed trait but rather a dynamic process. The brain, he says, possesses neuroplasticity—the ability to reorganize itself in response to trauma. Therefore, it acts as a buffer against the negative effects of stress and trauma, aiding in the rewiring of neural pathways for a healthier mental state.

Other neurobiologists have found that certain neural pathways associated with resilience can be strengthened through various practices, such as mindfulness, social support, and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT); which is why these three specialities are offered here at The Life Change Group.

Why Resilience is so Important

Psychologist Angela Duckworth, known for her research on grit and perseverance, offers another powerful perspective. She notes that success is often not just about talent but about sustained effort over time. Duckworth's insights underscore the importance of tenacity and resilience in the face of obstacles, reminding us that setbacks are not the end but rather opportunities for growth and healing.

In the words of Winston Churchill, "Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts." Let these words resonate in your heart as a testament to the enduring power of the human spirit.

Embrace resilience as your companion on the journey to recovery, and remember, you have the power to write your own headline.

For More Information

To find out more about how to deal with trauma or anxiety, please check out our Specialties page.