Published in HüK Magazine, and Modern Athletic Health
As winter’s embrace closes around us and the days get shorter and colder, many people begin to experience what is often referred to as the winter blues or seasonal depression. This emotional swing is sometimes blamed on the weather, holiday stress, or a myriad of other situational triggers. These may very well aggravate that glum slump from about November through March or so, but that’s not (usually) the whole story...
These “blues” are called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, and is believed to be caused by the change in the amount of daylight we receive. Up to 20 percent of people worldwide suffer from some level of SAD, though it is four times more common in women than in men, and can have symptoms such as oversleeping, overeating, irritability, difficulty concentrating, withdrawal from activities and people you care about, lack of energy, antisocial behavior, and a reduced sex drive. SAD affects those who have Bipolar Disorder or Major Depressive Disorder more than those who do not, but it’s effects can be strongly felt across the board.
Some researchers hypothesize that this is an evolutionary remnant hibernation response, while others suggest that the depression is merely delinquent Vitamin D synthesis from reduced exposure to the sun. Whatever the cause may be, there are some tried and true ways to handle the winter sadness without having to resort to pharmaceuticals.
The number one remedy for SAD is light therapy. You can use special light boxes controlled by computers, but the better, much less expensive option is just to get lots of sunshine! Take an extra five minutes when walking the dog, sit outside on mild days, or instead of going to the gym go to a park or walk on the beach. It should be noted that tanning beds should not be used to treat SAD. The ultraviolet rays are harmful to your skin and eyes and will leave you with more problems than when you went in.
There are other ways of getting Vitamin D though. Fish, especially salmon and tuna, fortified milk, some cereals, egg yolks, mushrooms, cheese (especially ricotta), and beef liver are all foods high in Vitamin D.
Decreased serotonin also plays a part in the depression. To help increase serotonin, try eating apricots and basmati rice. To help reduce your symptoms, cut back on alcohol and caffeine, get exercise, preferably outside or near a sunny window, and keep a regular sleep schedule.
Herbs can be useful for SAD. St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) and oatstraw (Avena sativa ) are both natural antidepressants, while passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), and lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) are excellent for relieving anxiety and creating a sense of calm and clarity. Ylang ylang (Cananga odorata), lavender (Lavandula x intermedia) and chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) essential oils can also help dismiss depression and reduce anxiety. But always talk to your herbalist or naturopathic practitioner before starting a treatment.
These facts and opinions are those of a certified Master Herbalist, Reiki Master Teacher, and a Natural Health Consultant, and are for educational purposes only, and not intended to replace consult with your healthcare practitioner.
If you have any questions or concerns about anything in this article, please contact me or your natural healthcare practitioner immediately.