The Ecopsychological View of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Becoming one with nature and your unacknowledged senses

 Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurrences with seasonal changes. It is most common in winter, although it can occur in other seasons. Symptoms include those seen in other types of depression: sleep and appetite disturbance, tiredness, loss of interests, irritability, concentration issues and thoughts of death and suicide.

Biological causes have been identified as disrupted melatonin levels, a drop in serotonin and changes in our biological clock. Treatment includes the use of medications as antidepressants, light therapy, and counseling.1

Ecopsychologists see the cause of SAD differently than our current medical model, seeking a deeper root cause. They view this depression as a symptom of our disconnect from nature and our inability to utilize many more senses than the five we commonly acknowledge. (visual, auditory, taste, olfactory, and balance.)

Michael Cohen, a prominent ecopsychologist, has identified 54 senses.2 More importantly, Dr. Cohen has discovered a way to access them. Many studies have identified being out in nature as aiding mental health and reducing stress. Connecting with nature requires more than just going outside.

Michael has developed a process that allows for full engagement and benefit. It is equal to other stress reduction techniques as the relaxation response and meditation.

He uses a process called grokking. It involves going out into a natural area, asking nature permission to be there, and observing the wonder around you. You then identify the senses from the 54 available. When you have done this, you have “grokked it.”3

Many Grokkers share their observations and senses with other Grokkers online. While this process sounds simple, it is scientifically validated as the Unified Field that Albert Einstein predicted in 1935 and confirmed by Particle Physics in 2012. It is based in the moment.

Cohen identifies categories of senses as radiation, feeling, mental, language, and chemical senses. Theses senses contain elements from physics, art, psychology, biology, and religious/spiritual senses.

Grokking allows one not to see nature as the enemy or something to be endured but allows one to become one with it. For example, we run in from rain when it occurs. Yet water is of major importance to all living things; in some organisms, up to 90% of their body weight comes from water. Up to 60% of the human adult body is water. According to H.H. Mitchell, Journal of Biological Chemistry 158, the brain and heart are composed of 73% water, and the lungs are about 83% water.4

We see snow as a pain to drive in and something to shovel. While grokking we sense the beauty of its color, the swirling, dancing way it falls, the majestic sculptures that occur that forms as it clings to tree branches and plants. We hear the sound of the wind and become aware of the sense of gravity, sense of temperature, our sense of survival, motion, and sense of season. We experience this in the moment. When we engage in nature in this way, we appreciate and respect it. We go out to see ice sculptures while being unaware of the natural sculpture all around us after a snowstorm.

Rather than seeing snow as something that keeps us depressed, we experience the sense of season that includes the ability to insulate, hibernate, and enjoy winter sleep.

Many people love music but are deaf to nature’s symphony that plays daily. During grokking, I hear the crunching of pinecones and leaves, the dripping of light rain from the trees on to the ground. A cardinal is singing loudly as other birds sing in the distance. I imagine the crunching as the bass, the dripping as the beat, and the cardinal as the lead singer with the other birds as background singers. 

A gust of wind comes along like a soaring guitar solo. I become one with the band as I become the dancer in nature’s dance!

Ecopsychologists point out how we spend much of our lives indoors and disconnect even further now with our technology and modern ways of life. This disconnection leads to mental illness, stress, loss of spirituality, pain, and what Michael Cohen calls Earth Misery. This Earth misery leads to impaired relationships, poor health, obesity, climate destruction, and the societal ills that afflict mankind.5

When we utilize medication and light therapy for SAD we are treating the symptoms, but not addressing the root cause of the disease. We may get some relief. but the symptoms will return each season until we learn to address the cause. Grokking is the way to get reconnected. Like other tools to deal with stress, it can be mastered with practice and regular use. It requires only a short amount of time daily but can result in long-term benefits to both ourselves and nature—in which we are one and the same.


(1)Mayo Clinic, Seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

(2)Michael J. Cohen, How to Liberate Your Natural Essence: The Arts and Science of Sensory Validation (2019), THE LIST OF 54 SENSES. Pages 79-82.

(3)Michael J. Cohen, How to Liberate Your Natural Essence: The Arts and Science of Sensory Validation (2019), pages 83-88.

(4)USGS, The Water in You: Water and the Human Body.

(5)Michael J. Cohen, How to Liberate Your Natural Essence: The Arts and Science of Sensory Validation. Earth Misery, pages 17-21.

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