First place to start is identifying what Seasonal Affective Disorder is, so What is S.A.D?
SAD is an acute (mild) form of depression brought on by the shift in seasons of autumn and winter; thought to be caused by decreased sunlight in your hemisphere. [Northern Hemisphere October-March/ Southern Hemisphere April-September (aprox.)]
About 1 in 30 Americans suffer from SAD and it is more common for women to display ‘severe’ symptoms.
Some studies suggest that their may be a genetic influence for those who experience reoccurring SAD (yearly.)
Key symptoms of S.A.D are (but not limited to):
- sadness, despair and irritability
- hypersomnia, or increased sleep disturbance
- low energy/ lethargy
- decreased interest or attention
- craving sweet and or starchy foods (carbohydrates)
- weight gain
- aches and pains especially in joints
- increased or worsened anxiety
What things can you do or incorporate into your life throughout the winter months to keep those blues away?
One thing you can do is start off by tracking your Circadian Rhythm. This (one of) your bodies natural clock(s) that runs on the amount of light we receive, and this can be altered by sun, as well as technology, both for the good and the bad.
You can track the shift and changes in your own circadian rhythm simply by keeping journal for about a week or so about all your habits, sleeping, eating, bathroom, mood, reactions, cravings, literally and everything. Simply write the time on left hand side of the page in 2 hour increments, and through out the day, make some notes about whats happening in your body and in your life. After a few days a pattern will start to show and you can use this to your benefit to engage or avoid based on your natural rhythm.
Another thing you can do to help with SAD and with altering your circadian rhythm for the better, is light therapy. This can be natural light, or the use of a light therapy bulb/box/device.
Fresh air and sunshine are natures medicine. Vitamin D (D3 is the bodies preferred type) is primarily absorbed by the skin and stored in fat cells. Since there is less sunlight both in strength and time during autumn/winter this is a key factor in the onset and reoccurance of S.A.D. If you can not get outside for whatever reason, try to lay or sit in the sunshine through a window, and even open the window for a few minutes to give yourself a bit of refreshing cold air, which will help wake up your senses and can help you feel invigorated.
Light therapy blue+red bulbs and boxes are fairly inexpensive options if you feel light therapy is something you would benefit from and have an extremely limited amount of light. (IE. Alaska who gets 4-6h of sunlight during the winter)
[You can also supplement with vitamin D3 and an Omega 3/6 Fatty acid, they need each other to absorb and metabolize]
Nutrition and Exercise…
are key players when it comes to anything in life, and S.A.D is no exception! Good Nutrition is key; as seasons shift and produce becomes less available and or affordable, we tend to lean on heavier carbohydrates/starches as well as sugars. This is one of the big contributors to ‘holiday’ weight gain as well as generally less movement. Fortunately for the majority of us, we have access to various ‘summer’ fruits and vegetables year round both fresh and frozen; There are however still a variety of winter vegetables you can take advantage of that are just as full of rich vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that your body needs, especially during the winter months.
Some of these include:
- Potatoes (try to avoid white varies and opt for sweet, purple or yams)
- California Kiwi
- Meyer Lemon
- Northern Spy Apples (apples in general are available year round)
- Pink Grapefruit
- Black Eyed Peas
- Winter Greens
- Collard Greens
- Blood Oranges
- & other root vegetables
[Source: IN SEASON by Rob Patrone and Robin Raisfeld ISBN: 978-0-399-16110-0]
Keeping active even 10-15 minutes of light exercise, can help keep the symptoms of S.A.D at bay and keep your body healthy. Some simple stretches, light yoga, t’ai chi, putting on a song or two and dancing, are all super easy ways to get moving that require little effort, space and time. Going for a nice walk around the block or out to get the mail can be refreshing and get your heart pumping.
Serotonin is one of your bodies feel good hormones, and it is important when it comes to gut health too. Since sugar and carbs are the easy ways for your body to get ‘quick’ energy, it also gives off serotonin which gives you that ‘feel good’ high. But sugar/carbs do not provide lasting energy, and can even perpetuate your stress cycle. The production of serotonin is another thing that gets effected by the decreased sunlight, causing it to slow down. When you exercise you positively stimulate the production and release of serotonin in the body. You can learn more about this here.
It is highly common for anti-depressants (SSRIs) to be prescribed during the winter months, even some of my family members have had to take medication to deal with SAD. If you feel you need to use medication please do your research to decide what is best for you in your situation; But there are a host of natural ways to deal with symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder including the above mentioned.
Some Herbs that you can incorporate into your life during the winter months, or even long term if you suffer from other types of depressions are:
- Wild Oat’s, Vervain, St.Johns Wort, Lemon Balm, Holy Basil, Rhodia
- Essentials Oils of: Lavender, Rosemary, Chamomile, Mandarin, Ylang Ylang,
- CBD has also been shown to be an effective plant based derivative that helps with treating depression. [Personally we choose to take one that has a combination of the a fore mention herbs known to treat anxiety/depression]
Some other great ways to help handle the symptoms related to SAD throughout the winter season are
- Massage Therapy
- Energy Based Therapies ie. Accupuncture, Accupressure, Reflexology, etc.
These not only help to relax the body and reduce stress, but help activate the bodies natural healing abilities in various ways, and help to balance and release the bodies natural hormones responsible for mental-emotional regulation and more.
If you start to notice these symptoms creeping in or suffer from yearly S.A.D, I hope you will have found some helpful tips and trick to incorporate into your daily life.
I am always available for further recommendations via contact page or on social media.