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S.A.D? How to Beat the Winter Blues with Natural Remedies
- Seasonal Affective Disorder, or S.A.D is a common form of recognized clinical depression, that affects more than half a million Americans every year.
- Although S.A.D is more commonly reported in women, and people of a younger age, it can occur within anyone – no matter their age or gender. Stressful life events can prompt an instance of S.A.D, and other factors such as family history, or a long-standing problem with emotional issues can also have an impact.
- One of the most common reasons that S.A.D occurs, is a lack of exposure to regular natural daylight and Vitamin D. This deficiency limits the body’s ability to manage levels of serotonin and melatonin in the body.
- Vitamin D deficiency can also lead to disruptions in our normal sleep (Circadian) rhythms, which leads to feelings of fatigue and sadness.
- The symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, and traditional depression are very similar. Because of this, it can be difficult to tell the two apart. S.A.D symptoms often include negative feelings, sadness, nervousness, irritability, and problems with appetite.
- It is possible to treat S.A.D naturally. One of the most common solutions recommended by doctors and research – is a light box, which can help up to 80% of patients. Other treatments include vitamin D supplementation, regular exercise, plenty of sleep, and plenty of time spent outside.
- One of the best ways to treat S.A.D is with the appropriate nutrition. Cutting out dangerous substances like sugar and simple carbohydrates can lead to greater amounts of energy, reduced feelings of sadness, and more. What’s more, essential fatty acids, antioxidants, and other supplements can help you to fight back against feelings of depression.
Are you feeling blue?
We all feel sad and anxious from time to time – and those instances of uncomfortable emotions can grow more common during the winter months – when the sun seems to go missing and our stress-levels skyrocket. However, if you find yourself constantly suffering from periods of depression when the temperature levels begin to drop – then there could be a problem. If you frequently suffer for periods of unexplainable low-mood during winter, then you could be one of the half a million Americans experiencing S.A.D.
S.A.D – or “the winter blues”, as some people call it, is more than just a feeling of lethargy when the weather is cold. Seasonal Affective Disorder is an accepted clinical condition that is caused by low levels of vitamin D, and a limited exposure to natural daylight.
Although this condition can affect anyone, it’s more commonly reported in women than men, and young people generally have a higher risk level than older adults. Today, scientists remain uncertain why some of us respond so negatively to the winter months, while others stay unaffected. However, one thing we do know for sure is that S.A.D is not a disorder that should be taken lightly. In fact, this disorder can make it difficult for some people to lead a normal life at the end of the year.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Before we can start looking at natural ways to treat S.A.D, it’s important to learn more about what this condition actually means. S.A.D is a form of clinical depression that is affected by the seasons. To some professionals, it’s known more commonly as “winter depression”, because winter is when this problem is the most pronounced. For many of the people who suffer from S.A.D, the symptoms come and go around the same time every year.
The most common months to be affected by S.A.D are between September, and April, with the worst months taking place during December, January and February. In many cases, the first experience a person has with S.A.D will occur between the ages of eighteen, and thirty – although this period can be changed by outside circumstances. For instance, a major move that takes place later in life can lead to the onset of symptoms.
Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder
So, what brings on seasonal affective disorder?
At this point in time, researchers remain somewhat unsure. Although we’ve been able to establish that certain risk factors could make you more predisposed to experiencing S.A.D, scientific experts remain divided over what actually prompts seasonal affective disorder to take place to begin with.
The main risk factors for S.A.D include:
- Being female – S.A.D is more frequently diagnosed in women than it is in men. However, some men find that they suffer from more intense symptoms.
- Age – Young people generally have a higher chance of suffering from SAD – but it’s important to remember that this condition can impact you regardless of age.
- Family history – People with S.A.D will be more likely to have relatives who have experienced S.A.D at some point in their lives – even if those relatives were never diagnosed with this specific condition.
- Clinical depression or bipolar – If you have suffered from other forms of depression, then the symptoms of this depression might worsen during the winter months.
- Living far away from the equator – Many researchers have found that living far from the equator – where daylight hours are shorter and nights are longer, can make S.A.D more common.
When it comes to factors that might prompt the beginning of SAD problems, though the exact causes of seasonal affective disorder aren’t clear, most scientists believe that lack of sunlight and vitamin D deficiency may be some of the most serious concerns. This vitamin D deficiency prevents the hypothalamus in the brain from working as it should – which leads to disruptions in circadian rhythms.
What does this mean? Well, if our circadian rhythms aren’t balanced, or are out-of-whack, this can affect our regular doses of melatonin, and serotonin. In people who suffer from S.A.D, melatonin (the hormone that helps us to sleep properly at night), can be produced in higher levels – which leads to serious feelings of fatigue. At the same time, important levels of serotonin (the hormone that makes us happy), can decrease.
The Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder
If you believe that you might be suffering from seasonal affective disorder, it’s important that you don’t try and diagnose yourself. Remember that this form of depression is just as serious as any other kind of depression – and can have very serious side-effects for those who experience it.
The symptoms that are often associated with S.A.D can vary from one person to another. However, in most cases, people find that their symptoms may begin mild, before becoming more severe during the peak winter months between December and February. In many cases, the symptoms that are associated with S.A.D will naturally begin to reduce and abate as the weather grows warmer, and sunnier spring days appear.
Symptoms generally include:
- Negative thoughts or feelings of guilt
- Fatigue that makes it hard to live life as normal
- Increased food cravings or weight gain
- Poor appetite
- Loss of concentration
- Social isolation
- Loss of interest in activities that you used to enjoy
- Sleep disturbances or sleeping problems
The problem with S.A.D, is many of the symptoms that are recognized for this problem can also be associated with more “traditional” forms of depression. In other words, it can be hard for you to tell the difference between whether you’re suffering from clinical depression, or S.A.D. Often, the only telltale sign is when you start, and stop experiencing the symptoms that we outlined above. When you talk to an expert, you should find that your health professional evaluates the times at which you have suffered from depression during the recent years – and whether you have had other periods of depression despite the season.
How Can I treat S.A.D Naturally?
If you speak to a doctor and discover that you are suffering from seasonal affective disorder, then the good news is that there are many great ways that you can begin treating this condition without the use of medication. Following, we’ll cover just some of the best options for helping you to get more out of the winter months.
1. Buy a Light Box
First things first, one of the best ways to control seasonal affective disorder, is to expose yourself to the light that your body is missing. If you find that during the winter months you don’t get to spend enough time outside, absorbing natural sunlight, then you might find that a light box is a worthwhile investment. In fact, up to 80% of patients with S.A.D find that they see improvements in their disposition when using one.
Light therapy allows you to get exposure to bright lights even when the sun is hidden behind clouds. Most experts recommend that S.A.D patients use this therapy on a daily basis, from the first time that they begin to experience symptoms, all the way through to the Spring.
2. Exercise Regularly
If you’re feeling low, the chances are you don’t have much energy, and the thought of hitting the gym or running to work might seem impossible. However, regular exercise has been proven to assist individuals who suffer from all different types of depression, including S.A.D.
Staying active increases the production of the feel-good chemicals in your brain that can help to reduce brain fog and depressive feelings. Certain studies have indicated that thirty minutes of walking can be enough to produce a significant boost in patient moods.
3. Get More Vitamin D
There are few things more important than Vitamin D when it comes to S.A.D and other forms of depression. Patients who suffer from seasonal affective disorder often experience seriously diminished levels of vitamin D – and this can contribute significantly to their emotional issues.
While scientists aren’t entirely sure why Vitamin D has such a huge impact on our emotions, it’s important to make sure that you check with your doctor to ensure your vitamin D levels are exactly where they should be. After all, most adults in the U.S. are suffering from some kind of deficiency, and even a small supplement could boost your immune system, bone health, and mood.
4. Go Outside
Whenever you do spot a ray of natural sunlight in the winter, you should be doing everything you can to take advantage. During the winter months, you could even consider sleeping with your curtains open so that you’re more likely to soak up sunshine in the morning.
To increase your chances of getting more sunlight exposure, spend plenty of time enjoying the outdoors. Go for winter hikes with your friend, take up a new hobby, or simply walk around the office building at work every day. While it’s important to stay warm when you’re outside, simply soaking up that extra vitamin D could do wonders for your mood.
5. Get Plenty of Sleep
Insomnia and poor sleep are two classic signs of depression which can easily lead to significant mental health problems. If you sleep poorly, then you’re going to feel tired. If you feel tired during the day, then you’ll find it harder to cope with emotional experiences. If you can’t cope with your emotions, you’ll struggle to sleep, and so on.
Concentrate on maintaining a healthy sleeping schedule, going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time each morning. While you’re doing this, avoid caffeine, sugar, and processed foods that can mess up your resting periods too.
6. Talk About It
One of the best ways to beat depression is with different kinds of talking therapy. Speaking to a trained psychologist or counsellor can give you the help you need to overcome your feelings of sadness, and take control of your life. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (C.B.T) is a form of psychotherapy that is regularly commended for people who want to turn unhealthy or unhelpful thinking, feeling, and behaving habits into healthier ones.
Although up until now, C.B.T has been used for a range of different mental health disorders and forms of depression, experts are now beginning to recognize its value for use with seasonal affective disorder. In fact, some believe that it will be more effective for S.A.D patients than light-therapy for long-term treatment.
Nutrition and S.A.D.
When it comes to looking after physical, and mental health, you’ll find that nutrition often has a role to play. Many people experiencing S.A.D crave comfort foods, such as sweet treats, or meals packed full of carbs. Unfortunately, eating this way ends up making you look, and feel much worse.
Instead of relying on comfort food to make you feel better when your mood is low, focus on eating a healing, depression-busting diet filled with leafy greens, lean proteins, and fish. This should help to keep your hormone levels on the right track, and boost internal levels of serotonin.
Here are just a few ingredients you should look for in your S.A.D-busting foods:
1. Plenty of Protein
Protein-rich foods such as chicken, peas, beans, raw milk, and grass-fed beef, contain an amino acid known as “tyrosine”. This substance boosts the levels of the neurotransmitters in your brain, including norepinephrine, and dopamine. The more protein you consume, the more alert and “normal” you’ll feel.
Foods rich in antioxidants, like blueberries and broccoli brimming with vitamin C, or nuts and seeds that are full of vitamin E, will protect your body from free radicals.
Scientific studies have found that Selenium supplementation can be effective at reducing depressive symptoms in studies of the elderly. Because many people consume “too much” selenium when taking a supplement, it’s best to get your dose through natural foods like seafood, legumes, lean meat, and beans instead.
4. Essential Fatty Acids
Essential fatty acids like omega 3’s, omega 6’s, and omega 9’s are perfect for boosting brain health and reducing your chances of suffering from extended periods of S.A.D and depression. Remember, you need to get the balance right with these acids, and your omega 3 levels should be just as high as your omega 6.
5. Healthy Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates can boost neurotransmitters that are used to calm the brain – serotonin. That’s why we often crave carb-filled foods for comfort. Unfortunately, simple carbohydrates that are full of sugar wreak havoc on our bodies and can increase depressive symptoms over time. Instead, stick to healthier carb choices like vegetables, beans, seeds, and nuts. Looking at your genetics (genomics) can better help to understand the amount of carbs your body would be okay with. Some have a need for extremely low carbs and some do better with some carbohydrates.
6. Flush Free Niacin
Flush free niacin is a powerful tool for depression symptoms. Find 500 mg capsules of “Flush Free” niacin. Start with 2 caps twice a day (2,000mg) and if you don’t notice any change after a week, increase to 3 caps twice a day (3,000mg).