Seasonal Affective Disorder

Beating the Winter Blues the Natural Way

Do you feel a little less yourself every year when the colder weather rolls around? You’re not alone! More than 6% of the US population is affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. This is a type of seasonal depression in which affected individuals have changes in mood during the colder/less sunny months of the year (typically late fall to late winter). Another 14% of the population suffers from one step below known clinically as “the winter blues”-another clinically recognized seasonal mood change (1). Symptoms can range from low energy to sadness to overeating to social withdrawal. Although the specific causation is unclear, the reduced sunlight exposure is thought to reduce serotonin and melatonin production-chemicals that properly regulate our mood and sleep cycle. The good news?

There are many natural, tried and true ways to prevent and fight the winter blues without having to move south or sacrificing your happiness for all of winter. Take advantage of our tips below and know that the key to success is prevention- start these tactics now and don’t wait until your symptoms have hit!

Get a Happy Lamp

One of the top recommendations for fighting SAD is utilizing a sunlamp to help naturally up-regulate serotonin production. Studies are supportive that 60-80% of sufferers can benefit from this type of therapy. Using the sunlamp in the morning between 30-60 minutes as well as starting usage in the fall (early October) is optimal.

I recommend those with 10,000 lux of light therapy such as the NatureBright SunTouch Plus Light and Ion Therapy Lamp or for a portable version: Happy Energy Health Light Daylight Portable Light Therapy Energy Lamp by CubeTech.

Get Outside and Get Movin’

As much as is feasible, bundle up and get outside-even in the cold. Even a less direct dose of natural sunlight will help your cause and the exercise will increase endorphins helping to boost your mood. Studies support that even walking has been proven to significantly improve symptoms of depression (2) One step better-sign up for a workout class with a friend; the movement and social connection are a double dose of mood booster!

Practice Gratitude

Stop and think-what are you grateful for this time of the year?  For many of us the summer can be busy with vacations and keep us moving on the go; winter can cause us to slow down, look within and replete our energy stores. Maybe you love the coziness of a warm blanket on a snowy night or a warm butternut squash soup or a cup of tea. Embrace the things you get to do in the winter that may not be as enjoyable during the warmer months of the year.

Identify your Tribe

Schedule get togethers and dinner plans with friends on a week to week basis so you always have social connectivity on the horizon. Socializing can go a long way in terms of boosting your mood especially when taking part in a hobby or activity of mutual interest. Talking with a trusted family member or friend about your dips in mood can be healing within itself by reducing feelings of loneliness and adding a layer of support to your life.

Go Gentle and Slow Down: 

Be mindful about integrating practices that nurture your adrenals (organs that control your body’s stress management) by adding in some calming exercises or practices regularly. Running through your week with a stressful work schedule, eating on the go and high intensity exercise will likely exacerbate symptoms of adrenal fatigue and lead to lower energy and even worsened depression. Make sure to schedule daily de-stressing activities: whether you choose mindful breathing during your meals, a yoga class, guided meditation, reading your favorite book or a warm bath-all can suffice!

Balance Your Blood Sugar:

Research shows that frequent spikes and dips in blood sugar can contribute to increased anxiety and mood dysregulation. Reduce sources of simple sugars like syrups in your coffee, candy and sugar laden protein bars and add in more healthy fats instead to balance out your hunger and metabolism throughout the day. Choose healthful fats such as avocado, olives, coconut and seeds. Bonus-these are all brain boosting functional foods! Try my recipe for pumpkin spice balls that taste like a treat and have plenty of healthy fats:

Eat Happy Foods:

Certain foods contain the amino acid tryptophan-a precursor to the mood-boosting chemical serotonin. For those who eat animal protein; wild salmon, organic turkey and free range eggs are all rich sources of tryptophan. For vegan sources: spinach, organic tofu and nuts/seeds are also great sources of the mood-boosting amino acid.

Some of my best advice is a collection of the above-figure out the things that comfort you (whether that includes specific friends, family, exercise, healthy foods or activities and create a “blues toolkit”). Write down in a journal what these people or things are and have this as a go-to in case you feel the symptoms of seasonal depression coming on. This will set you up for seasonal success throughout the winter season!

  1. Rosenthal NE. Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder. New York, NY: Guilford Press; 2006.
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