Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD, is really a form of depression that affects people worldwide. It is most commonly experienced during the winter months. The symptoms of SAD include depression, hypersomnia, lethargy, difficulty concentrating, overeating, negative thoughts and decreased social interaction. Higher levels of anxiety are experienced at the end of the summer season as those who suffer from this ailment start to anticipate the coming months of less sunshine and increased symptomology. Studies also suggest that many people who suffer from SAD may also be afflicted with some other form of mental imbalance such as addiction, personality disorders or anxiety.
It is estimated, by the National Institute of Health, that nearly 10 million Americans struggle with the winter blues and it is known to affect young women three times more than any other group of people. While the cause of SAD is still yet to be determined, there is some evidence that it is related to the levels of melatonin and vitamin D in the body.
Melatonin is a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. The production of melatonin is stimulated by darkness. This prepares the body for sleep. As winter days get shorter and darker, melatonin production in the body goes up and people start to feel sleepier and more lethargic during what would be their normal waking hours. People with SAD may also produce less Vitamin D in the winter months because they are exposed to less sunlight. Low levels of Vitamin D are associated with clinically significant depression symptoms.
There are some natural ways to combat SAD though. Here are just a few examples of things you can do to help you keep SAD at bay until the warmer spring months arrive.
1. Turn on the Lights – Light therapy is the most widely used and effective treatment for SAD. It involves sitting in front of a light box for a set amount of time each day, typically in the early morning, depending on your doctor’s recommendation. The light from a light box is much brighter than indoor lighting and has been shown to relieve symptoms for about 70% of patients in just a few weeks. You can also supplement your time in front of the light box by sitting near a window when you can or by spending time outside, especially on sunny winter days.
2. Meditate – A 1989 study found that SAD may be connected to a disturbance in the pineal gland, which is a photosensitive organ connected to our body’s sleep patterns. Meditation is one way to stimulate the pineal gland and is an effective treatment for sleep disorders, including those caused by winter disruptions in our natural sleep cycle.
3. Stretch – Yoga is a great way to get some exercise, raise your serotonin level and release emotions being stored in the body. As you stretch your muscles and expand your range of motion, you shift the bodily patterns that trap emotional pain. Many people struggle to get out of bed in colder weather. Many yogis recommend that you roll right out of bed and into downward facing dog to help alleviate stiffness in the body or you can start a yoga session with a pose you really love to help coax you into a longer practice.
Inversions are thought to help soothe the nervous system and restore balance in the body, but just be sure to practice inversions appropriate to your level of experience. Turning upside down stimulates and nourishes the endocrine glands, especially the pituitary and pineal glands, which when stimulated by the pressure created in inversions release hormones that regulate cellular metabolism, bringing health, balance, clarity, vitality and optimism to the whole body / mind system.
4. Use Essential Oils – Another powerful, all-natural way to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder is to incorporate some basic essential oils into your daily routine, starting as soon as you feel the onset of depression. Start off by diffusing one oil at a time so you can evaluate the benefits of each oil. Remember, each person is unique, so what might be terrific for one person’s mood might stir up negative emotions for others. Until you smell the oils, you can’t know for sure what memories might be associated with them. Once you’ve taken note of how each individual oil makes you feel, consider blending 2 or 3 of them, but do not exceed a total of 6 – 10 drops at a time. And be sure to keep the oils out of reach of children and pets.
5. Snack Smart – Craving carbohydrates is quite normal in the winter as foods like bread, cookies and crackers can increase serotonin levels and make us feel happier. But, while processed carbohydrates can offer a quick pick-me-up, these foods eventually make your mood swing back down and they deplete your body’s natural stores of vitamins and minerals. Instead, choose complex carbohydrates, vegetables and protein-based snacks like nuts.
6. Connect with Nature – Connecting with nature and appreciating the growth and signs of life all around us, even in winter, can have a strong positive effect on our psyche and overall mental health. Aside from getting more sunshine (and fresh air), stopping to observe nature’s resilience and miracles, even in the otherwise bleak midwinter, helps us to feel grateful and hopeful, which can ward off feelings of seasonally-induced depression at this time of year.
Another great way to connect and appreciate nature in the winter is to bring some plants or flowers into your house. Get a houseplant, keep a vase of flowers on your table or even create your own terrarium out of moss, twigs and found objects. When the Christmas tree, garlands and wreaths comes down, that doesn’t mean it has to be the end of keeping greenery indoors until spring. There are lots of ways to enjoy a little bit of nature even when you’re cozied up indoors.
7. Get an Acupuncture Treatment – Acupuncture is one of the tools used in East Asian Medicine. Acupuncture needles move energy throughout the body. Acupuncture releases endorphins and by doing so, it improves the flow of energy throughout the body, while eliminating blockages and bringing balance to the mind and body. Endorphins counter the symptoms of depression and allow the person to resume a normal life.
While SAD is a common affliction during the winter months, it is clear that it doesn’t have to be so detrimental. As you can see, there are plenty of ways to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder and if you are somebody who suffers from this condition, you now have some ideas on how to beat it and maintain your happy mindset, even in the deep of winter.