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Posted on 08-21-2017
February 17, 2016
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a common problem for many individuals in winter months when days are shorter, temperatures are colder, and the sun may not break through the clouds for several days at a time. Also known as “winter depression”, symptoms can include depression, anxiety, low motivation, irritability, fatigue, and carbohydrate cravings. It differs from regular depression in that symptoms tend to resolve as the sun extends its hours and the weather warms in spring. Basically, you feel sad and hungry and don’t want to do anything but eat and sleep. If you could hibernate with a freezer full of ice cream until the sun reappeared, you might do it!
If you feel SAD is affecting you this winter, here are 5 natural ways to combat it until the spring months bring relief.
1. Regulate your exposure to light
Our bodies were designed with an internal clock that follows the light cycles, slowing down when the sun goes down and waking us when it rises. In part, it accomplishes this through the production of the hormone melatonin. When more melatonin is released, we feel less alert and want to rest. Levels of melatonin should rise in the evening, remain high for most of the night, and drop again early in the morning.
Light is a major factor affecting production of melatonin. The naturally shorter light cycles during the winter months may disrupt this hormonal cycle and cause SAD symptoms, including depression and insomnia. By adjusting our light exposure in the morning and evening hours, we can help regulate the body’s melatonin production.
In the morning, a wide-spectrum light box that emits 10,000 lux can be used to simulate the missing sunlight. Thirty minutes of direct facial exposure first thing each morning will change the chemicals in your brain and help your body to adjust its internal clock.
Try to get outside as much as possible when the sun is out. If you are inside most of the day, try to change the bulbs that light your daytime space from yellow to natural spectrum lighting.
Caution: When using a light box, be sure to read and follow the manufacturer’s directions for safety.
2. Get Enough Sleep
Although it varies between individuals, the average adult requires 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night to be truly rested.
Matthew Feldner, professor of psychology at the University of Arkansas, reported that a lack of sleep may impair the functioning of the part of our brain that regulates emotional experience. He reports when we are sleep-deprived we are less able to recover from an emotional event. Therefore, something that might normally only cause a momentary sadness can easily evolve into a mild depression.1
Here are some tips to help you sleep better:
Keep a regular sleep schedule 7 days a week. Keeping a consistent schedule helps your body to know when to sleep and when to get up.
Have a regular, relaxing routine to wind down before trying to get to sleep. Read a book, listen to soothing music, or soak in a hot bath. Use aromatherapy. Lavender or chamomile in your bath, or in a spray or sachet near your pillow can help you relax.
Create a dark, quiet, comfortable sleep environment. Turn the heat down if possible; you’ll sleep better in a cool environment. If you can’t eliminate unfriendly noise, consider playing relaxing music to fall asleep to. Make sure your pillow and mattress are comfortable.
Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol after 3:00 pm. And do not eat at least 2 hours before you retire.
Avoid using your bedroom for work, resolving conflicts, or anything that might trigger a stress reaction in your brain.
Take a natural relaxant. I regularly recommend a few homeopathic and herbal supplements that help patients relax more so that they can fall asleep more easily. The specific supplement depends upon the patient’s personality and specific sleep issues.
Exercise, especially if it is aerobic, improves blood flow, increasing oxygen to the brain. It also stimulates the body to release endorphins, which trigger a positive feeling and outlook on life. If motivation is a problem, find an exercise “buddy”. Mixing positive social interaction with exercise amplifies it’s effect! Whether you choose to run, swim, work out at the gym, or participate in an exercise class, exercise can help you feel better emotionally as well as physically.
A study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that aerobic exercise equivalent to burning 8 calories per pound of body weight per week is an effective treatment for depression.
That equates to about four hours of moderate (such as fast walking) or 2 hours of hardy exercise per week. An exhilarating walk of 40 minutes per day, six days per week could accomplish this goal. The study found that patients who exercised three to five times a week and met this goal experienced a 47% reduction in their level of depression. The study concluded that as little as three hours of regular, moderate exercise per week could be as effective as Prozac and other antidepressants in reducing the symptoms of mild to moderate depression.2
4. Take Nutritional Supplements
There are some nutritional supplements that may help relieve SAD symptoms.
Studies have shown a link between low Vitamin D levels and SAD. Dr. Micheal Holick, a leading researcher, estimates that as much as 50 percent of the US population have low levels of vitamin D.
Those levels may decline even more in the shortened sun cycles of the winter month. Your body needs sunlight to produce vitamin D and the only wavelength of light that helps accomplish this is UVB-rays. In the winter, most of the US north of Atlanta, including Missouri, is too far north for these rays to make it through the atmosphere and reach us. This results in a further decline in vitamin D levels.
Eating fatty fish like cod, salmon, sardines, and herring can help. You may also get vitamin D3 from fortified cereals and milk. But often this is not enough to raise your level to the ideal 40-70 ng/ml during winter months.
A vitamin D3 supplement can help increase that level. Before starting supplements you’ll need to be tested to find out what your levels are currently, so you can avoid overdosing. [GrassrootsHealth] has a chart showing the average adult dose required to reach 40-60 ng/ml based upon your measured starting point.
Active vitamin *NADH *(Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) increases the amount of neurotransmitters in the brain that affect mood and often helps relieve mild depression. It increases the ATP energy in the cells, so the nerve cells produce more adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin, all of which help lift mood.
Wild blue-green micro-algae (1.5 grams) or natural apple cider vinegar (1 teaspoon in a little water) taken up to three times daily can help relieve minor depression symptoms.
Caution: Seek a doctor’s advice before taking supplements to avoid overdoses and contraindications. You should have your level of Vitamin D tested before taking supplements as too much can be toxic. Many NADH and Vitamin D products sold online are not manufactured properly to retain their potency and may be ineffective. On the other hand, too much stimulation by certain vitamins or nutrients can cause adverse side effects such as an irregular heartbeat.*
5. Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese medicine has been used successfully in treating physical and emotional conditions for over two thousand years. It treats the body as a “whole”, observing the movement of Qi (the vital energy of the body). When the body is in balance, it is physically and emotionally healthy. An imbalance in the energy of the body manifests itself as illness or disease, and can affect the way we feel emotionally. For example, Chinese medicine teaches that the heart energetically affects our emotions.
Depressed energy can additionally affect the stomach and spleen, causing us to not get the nourishment we would normally receive from the foods we eat. Too much energy in the stomach can cause hydrochloric acid secretion and irritation.
Chinese herbs and acupuncture can successfully restore balance, helping our bodies physically and emotionally to overcome depression.
We utilize a Computerized Vital Body Scan to assess the balance of the body’s systems. It defines which pressure points on the body and which specific Chinese herbs can help bring those systems back into balance again.
If you’re experiencing SAD symptoms, we’d be happy to design a personalized program to help you feel better! Call us at 417-725-6655 and we’ll help you determine the regiment that’s right for you.
Dr. Hunter Greenwood DC ND MTAA is a chiropractor and naturopathic physician certified in acupuncture and acupressure, with over 30 years of experience helping patients get relief. He practices at Chiropractor Plus, 1361 West Mount Vernon Street in Nixa, Missouri.
Consult with a physician before administering ANY of these treatments to make sure they are appropriate for you.
This article does not take into consideration your health conditions. The treatments and remedies are for educational purposes only.
If more serious depression is an issue, or if you have any suicidal thoughts or desires to harm yourself or others, it is important that you consult a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist.
1 Hall, Alena. "Feeling Anxious Or Depressed? Sleep Deprivation May Be To Blame." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 15. Web. 12 Feb. 2016.
2 Dunn, Andrea L., Madhukar H. Trivedi, James B. Kampert, Camillia G. Clark, and Heather O. Chambliss. "Exercise Treatment for Depression."American Journal of Preventive Medicine 28.1 (2005): 1-8. Web.
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