Winter is here. Snow, rain, and cold air might cause some to feel symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) like depression and fatigue, particularly for those living in the Pacific Northwest. Here in the southern Cascade foothills, we get our fair share of soggy, gray skies, contributing to sluggishness, and that feeling of wanting to “hibernate” or hunker down. People that have a history of depression or mental illness are at a higher risk of experiencing symptoms of SAD. Somehow, the positive effects that the sun has on the human body aren't fully appreciated until this time of year when everyone is experiencing the blues.
People with SAD may have trouble regulating serotonin (an imbalance of which contributes to depression), may overproduce melatonin (the hormone responsible for regulating sleep cycles) and may produce less vitamin D (symptoms of deficiency include fatigue, brittle bones, mood changes, and pain).[See 1].
Being female, living far from the equator, a family history of depression and a young age are some of the contributing factors. If the odds are stacked against you, it doesn’t have to be that way. As in every situation in life, we have the power and choice to affect change in our own lives. If you experience symptoms of winter blues, here are some natural, holistic ways to combat seasonal sadness.
As in every situation in life, we have the power and choice to affect change in our own lives.
Vitamin D. It’s a good idea to get your vitamin D levels tested. Known as the sunshine vitamin, Vitamin D is produced in the body when sunlight hits our skin. And these levels tend to drop in winter due to the shorter days and more time spent indoors. There is a direct link between depression and low Vitamin D [see 2]. If you are low on vitamin D, spend more time outside in the sunlight (15-30 minutes per day) and eat foods containing vitamin D such as wild salmon, tuna, eggs, and mushrooms. You could also consider taking a supplement [See 3]. I take 5,000UI daily and taper off on days when I’m outside in the sun. Work with your doctor to find the right supplementation for your body.
Connect with Nature. I know it’s cold outside, but pick the best time of the day to get outside for just a few minutes if you can. Usually, the sun is the brightest during the noon hour. Forest therapy, or forest bathing, is an emerging and effective intervention for decreasing depressive symptoms [See 4]. Being immersed in the forest air and taking in nature through our senses can help boost your immunity and mood and reduce blood pressure and stress. Another way to connect with nature is to bring the outside in by eating foods that store sunlight such as vividly colored and dark green leafy vegetables. If a smoothie doesn’t sound good when it’s freezing, try making a hearty comforting vegetable soup. A spicy bowl of curry or stew is a sure way to get your circulation going. Spices like garlic, ginger, turmeric, and black pepper helps improve blood flow.
Daily Exercise. Taking a walk or riding a bike outside would be preferable to take advantage of any sunshine available, but if that’s not doable then pick a spot in front of a window. Physical exercise along with light therapy has been shown to have a positive effect on mood for persons with Seasonal Affective Disorder [See 5]. Riding my bike in front of my sliding glass door makes me feel less couped up.
Drink Tea. A natural energy booster, tea is a great choice to help balance your energy levels. Ginger, peppermint, and tulsi are good picks. My personal favorite is Matcha green tea, it’s L-Theanine content gives you a boost in mood and cognition without the caffeine jitters [See 6]. My favorite brands are DoMatcha and Pique Tea, they both offer certified organic matcha tea and test for heavy metals and pesticide residues.
Aromatherapy. Citrus oils can really lift the spirit. Bergamot essential oil reduces stress and anxiety [See 7]. Some essential oils are calming such as lavender, rose, and neroli. The aromatic effects of Yuzu can alleviate negative emotional stress and help suppress sympathetic nervous system activity [See 8]. Try our Desert Lavender Body Oil which contains lavender and orange essential oils, a few drops in the bath will help you to relax. If you haven’t read my blog post on the psychological benefits of washing with soap it’s a quick read.
To your good (mental) health and lots of sunshiny days ahead,
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