Got the Winter Blues?
With the onset of winter comes shorter days for all of us and less exercise for many. The relative lack of light coupled with our body’s natural need for physical stimulation can often result in a mild depression. These winter blues have been termed Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Of course there are pharmaceutical treatments for this issue, but I am excited to share that there are also many natural ways we can keep these feelings at bay.
Seasonal Affective Disorder occurs mostly during the Fall and Winter months and can be attributed to a few main biological causes. The most prominent cause is likely to be a disruption in our circadian rhythms. Over the spring and summer months our bodies become used to a certain sleep and wake cycle. Everything from our hormone levels to our metabolism make adaptations to this schedule. Our bodies are amazing! With a dwindling amount of light our internal clocks are thrown off course. This offset can disrupt many of our body’s natural processes.
One of the key hormones that is affected by light is melatonin. This chemical plays a major role in our sleep patterns. Its production is directly related to the amount of light our body is exposed to at any given time. Typically, melatonin production increases in the dark hours of the night. With night occurring earlier and lasting longer, it is easy to see how the body can become confused. The mood altering neurotransmitter serotonin may also contribute to SAD. Its production is partially related to sunlight. As the amount of sunlight we receive is reduced, so is it. Many of these causes are out of our control but fortunately there are things we can do to mitigate the potential resulting depression.
Like most things, SAD can be more severe for some of us than for others. If you are having any serious depression and or thoughts of suicide, seek the help of a medical professional immediately. One of the first things many people try is known as phototherapy. This treatment makes use of a specially designed lightbox or bulb that emits light at the right frequencies to emulate sunlight. People sit in front of the light source for a predetermined amount of time each day. You can find phototherapy lamps easily online. Lamps such as the Lightphoria are compact and can be used easily. This alone is enough to help many people to get through the winter months but there are other options.
Exercise can also help the body to resume a more healthy sleep schedule (along with too many other benefits to count!). Although it may be too cold to go out for a run or too slippery for a bike ride, there are many things that can be done within your own home. For example, many of my friends like to go on YouTube and look up exercise videos including things like boxing, yoga, and tae-bo. The videos are so numerous that they never get bored following along to the same one over and over. You can of course write your own routine with house-friendly exercises as well. I personally like to do push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups every day but the sky is the limit here. Whichever routine you choose, just get up and get moving!
As mentioned earlier, there are prescription medications that can be used to treat SAD, but we are going to stick to some less abrasive more natural approaches in this article. There are many supplements that can be used to treat mild depression and I will mention a few of the most common ones. As with anything you plan to put in your body, do your research first. Perhaps one of the most common treatments for depression is St. John’s Wort. This can be consumed in the form of a tea or in a capsule. You can find it at your local health food store as well as many chain stores. One thing to be aware of is that St. John’s Wort is considered a mild Mono Aminine Oxidase Inhibitor (MAOI) and you should be careful to avoid foods high in tyramine (aged cheeses, cured meats, soy sauce, etc) while using it. More information about this can be found with a simple Google search for MAOI diet. This is probably the most common, but there are others you can try.
Some people also choose to take the amino acid tryptophan as it is a precursor to serotonin and can help to regulate mood. A few other supplements that can be used to help with depression and anxiety on a less than regular basis are tyrosine and theanine. Theanine is an amino acid found in green tea in small amounts and the extract can be purchased from a vitamin or natural foods store. Many people like to combine theanine with caffeine as it takes the edge off of caffeine while still allowing people to experience the positive uplifting effects. There are numerous supplements available that can aid in the treatment of SAD and other problems but these are many of the most commonly used options.
The most important thing to remember when treating any issue is that a healthy diet and exercise plan are the two most important things a person can do to improve their situation. That is the base for any treatment to build upon. If you’re still feeling down after those vital aspects of your life are in order, there are other avenues of self-treatment. You can start with phototherapy and then move on to supplements. Whichever route you choose you definitely have options. You don’t have to just buckle down and suffer through it alone. Remember, longer days and warmer temperatures are just a few months away!