Natural remedies can be used to help treat Seasonal Affect Disorder- the Winter Blues.
Do you have the Winter Blues?
How you’re feeling may be due to more than just missing the sunshine and blue skies. What you’re feeling may be due to Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons — typically, SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. Symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Natural remedies can be used to treat SAD.
It’s estimated to affect 10 million Americans, with another 1-2 million Americans suffering from a mild form- making it extremely common, affecting 1 in every 30 people in the U.S.
The criteria for diagnosing SAD are spelled out in the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). They include:
- Depression and other symptoms that have occurred for at least two consecutive years, during the same season every year.
- Having more seasons of depression than seasons without depression over a lifetime.
- The periods of depression have been followed by periods without depression.
- There are no other explanations for the changes in mood or behavior.
The term Seasonal Affective Disorder has been around since 1985. It’s estimated to affect 10 million Americans, with another 1-2 million Americans suffering from a mild form- making it extremely common, affecting 1 in every 30 people in the U.S. It’s more common the farther North you live; for example, its prevalence is 9.7% in New Hampshire but only 1.4% in Florida. SAD typically is more common in women than in men (60-90% of SAD sufferers are women); however, men usually show the most severe symptoms. SAD affects people from September to April, with the worst symptoms occurring in December, January and February.
Some of the most common symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder include:
- Low energy
- Having problems with sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating
- Low interest in activities you typically enjoy
- Feeling depressed most of the day, for many days in a row
- Feeling agitated
- Weight gain or major changes in appetite
- Low energy
Symptoms may start out mild and become more severe as the season progresses.
The specific cause of seasonal affective disorder remains unknown. Some factors that may come into play include:
- Your biological clock (circadian rhythm). The transition from summer to winter changes the time that melatonin is released and this can throw the bodies’ natural rhythm out of sync which may trigger the symptoms of SAD.
- Serotonin levels. A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, might play a role in SAD. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression.
- Melatonin levels. The change in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.
Coping with the winter blues or SAD always involves a combination of both honoring your feelings and actively giving yourself a little push to do something different.
Use these tips to lift your spirits during the winter months:
Spend time outdoors We spend much more time indoors during the winter months. Exposure to natural light increases both your feel good chemicals, serotonin and dopamine. Bundle up and spend some time outside during the day. And, keep the curtains and blinds in your house open during the day so you can take advantage of even a glimmer of sunlight.
If natural light isn’t an option, it can be very helpful to use a light box. Many health professionals prefer to treat SAD with exposure to full spectrum indoor light for 15 to 30 minutes every morning. Patients often see improvement within 2 to 4 days, and reach full benefits within 2 weeks. The symptoms of SAD return quickly after light therapy is stopped, so light treatment should be continued throughout the entire season of low sunlight.
Vitamin D An estimated 70 percent of the U.S. population is D-deficient.
Dr. Weil, a pioneer in the field of integrative medicine and author of In his new book, “Mind Over Meds: Know When Drugs Are Necessary, When Alternatives Are Better — and When to Let Your Body Heal on Its Own, reports that a vitamin D deficiency might underlie SAD and that supplementing with vitamin D might help.
Up your omega-3 intake Omega-3’s can help maintain healthy levels of the brain chemicals dopamine and serotonin (the feel good neurotransmitters) that increase happiness and reduce symptoms of depression.
Move your body Regular exercise has been proven to help with traditional types of depression, and SAD is no different. Exercise produces feel-good endorphins that can enhance your sense of wellbeing.
Some research shows that physical activity — not just formal exercise programs — may help improve mood. Physical activity and exercise are not the same thing, but both are beneficial to your health.
- Physical activity is any activity that works your muscles and requires energy and can include work or household or leisure activities.
- Exercise is a planned, structured and repetitive body movement done to improve or maintain physical fitness.
De-clutter Your environment can affect your mood. Piles of mail and counters filled with clutter contribute to overwhelm and fatigue. A nice, neat space can be surprisingly helpful when you’re feeling down. If you’re lacking the motivation and energy to clean, start with just five minutes of tidying up.
Practice mindfulness Use your senses to increase enjoyment of everyday life. When you’re busy and distracted, you take a lot of things for granted; you’re simply not paying attention to the little pleasures in life. Tuning into all of your senses and enjoying everyday experiences through taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound can add a new level of appreciation and enjoyment to them. Check out what happened when I made mindfulness a priority here.
Write it out Writing is an easy and effective way to process through what you’re feeling and what’s happening in your life. Writing can help you clarify your feelings, gain insight, and is a great way to release some of the “negative” feelings that you’ve been storing in your mind and body. Use journaling prompts to inspire a daily journaling practice.
Create a self care routine SAD makes you neglect many areas of your life, especially personal care, more often that you might during other times of the year. Making an intentional effort to take better care of yourself can help ease the effects of winter depression. Find out how you can begin practicing self care, Easy Ways To Practice Self Care for a Healthy Body and Mind.
Eat a well-balanced diet Your food choices can have a significant impact on your mood. It’s key to eat foods that support your neurotransmitters, which are the brain’s messengers that control your mood, energy levels, appetite and several other functions in the body. Regularly eating a whole food diet, consisting of vegetables, fruits and fish, can help lessen symptoms of depression.
Stick to a regular sleep schedule Getting enough sleep can help create a resistance to stress related illnesses and immune function, helps you start the day feeling refreshed and invigorated, and helps reduce the feelings of stress. For more info, check out my 10 tips to help you sleep better here.
Essential Oils Essential oils have been used throughout the world for centuries and are one of nature’s most powerful tools to support health and well-being. The aromatic properties of essential oils can help alleviate the symptoms of SAD.
If you’re new to using essential oils, download the Guide To Begin Using Essential Oils for tips, techniques and recipes to help you get started.
The Best Essential Oils for Symptoms of SAD:
Bergamot – best known to enhance mood and build confidence, bergamot oil can reduce tension in the mind and the body.
Lavender – the relaxing feeling lavender brings often leads to a deliberate, therapeutic effect that helps relieve mild anxiety.
Veviter – traditionally used as Ayurvedic medicine to cool the mind and stabilize emotions.
Roman chamomile – can be used to calm nerves and reduce anxiety by promoting relaxation.
Ylang ylang – acts directly on the olfactory system of the brain, inhaling ylang ylang can have immediate, positive effects on your mood. Research shows it can help release negative emotions, including anger, low self-esteem and jealousy.
Rosemary – the aromatic effects can help relieve mental fatigue.
Frankincense – used to help reduce stress reactions and negative emotions. Frankincense is also known to calm the mind and ease anxiety.
Patchouli – the aromatherapy properties encourages the release of serotonin and dopamine; these hormones ease feelings of anger, anxiety and anxiousness.
These essential oil blends can be used in the bath, an oil burner, a diffuser or applied to pulse points.
- 2 drops peppermint
- 2 drops aniseed
- 4 drops lavender
- 2 drops ginger
- 3 drops orange
- 3 drops clove
- 3 drops jasmine
- 1 drop cinnamon
- 2 drops lavender
- 2 drops frankincense
- 2 drops roman chamomile
- 3 drops ylang ylang
- 2 drops wild orange
- 2 drops lavender
To relieve stress with essential oils while improving sleep, put a diffuser by your bed and diffuse oils while you sleep at night. You can also rub topically behind your ears, on the back of the neck, your tummy and bottoms of the feet.
Reach out for help It’s normal to have some days when you feel down and it’s not unusual to experience mild symptoms of SAD, but Seasonal Affective Disorder is a serious problem. If you feel down for multiple days at a time, you just can’t get motivated to do the activities you typically enjoy and nothing is helping, seek the help of a professional.
- SAD occurs most often in women
- Onset of symptoms is typically occurs in the fall and continues through the winter months
- Natural remedies can be used to help ease the symptoms of SAD
- Don’t hesitate to ask for help if needed
- It’s normal to have days when you feel down and there are easy things you can do to feel better
- An awareness and understanding of SAD helps with coping with the symptoms
- Catch some rays- as often as you can bask in the sunlight and embrace the warmth and good feelings
The information in this post is based on my personal experience and research and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, prevent or otherwise reduce the effects of any illness or disease. This information is intended for informational purposes only and is not meant to substitute for seeking medical advice from a licensed medical doctor. Consult a licensed and qualified heath care provider for diagnosis, medical care and treatment.
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