With the Fall weather upon us here in Raincouver, most of us are starting to feel a little bit blue. I know I catch myself feeling blue at times and have to snap myself out of it by eating a well-balanced diet, exercising and doing things I love with good company. However, for those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), it may not be as easy to get out of this gloomy feeling deep within.
What is SAD?
SAD, otherwise known as winter blues, winter depression or seasonal depression, is a type of depression related to changes in season. Most people begin experiencing symptoms in the Fall and it may last all the way till Winter. Common symptoms are fatigue, low energy, sadness, anxiety, irritability, oversleeping, decreased concentration, increased appetite (especially of carbs and sweets), weight gain and reduced interest in usual activities. Generally, these symptoms disappear when Spring arrives.
The specific cause is unknown but most experts believe that lack of sunlight may be to blame. You see, our bodies have an internal biological clock and when our circadian rhythms (24-hour cycles) are disrupted by changes in seasons, chemicals and hormones in our bodies are affected.
When sunlight hits our eyes first thing in the morning, it increases the production of serotonin which is a neurotransmitter (our “happy chemical”) responsible for maintaining mood balance. Shorter daylight hours in the Fall and Winter seasons cause a deficit in serotonin which can lead to depression. Seasonal changes also disrupt melatonin, a hormone that plays a role in mood and sleep/wake cycles.
I have worked with a few clients in the past that suffered from SAD, it is more common than you may think! Just recently, a friend of mine asked for advice about this matter and talking with him has inspired me to write this. I know full well what it’s like to feel down in the dumps. And though I have never been clinically depressed, I can relate with deep sadness as I am such an emotional being (way more than I’d like to admit). But don’t lose hope! If you suffer from SAD, there are natural ways to combat this. Here are a few tips to help lift you up!
1. Eat a Healthy Balanced Diet – What we consume has a direct correlation with how we feel. Though having SAD causes cravings for carbs and sweet treats, try to fight the urge and go for a piece of fruit instead. Try to add in more leafy greens, lean proteins, fish and veggies to your diet. These will help keep melatonin and serotonin levels balanced.
2. Light Therapy – Bright light stimulates cells in the retina that connect to the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that helps in controlling our circadian rhythms. By sitting close to a special light box in the morning for 30 minutes a day, it helps activate the hypothalamus to restore a normal circadian rhythm and help reduce SAD symptoms.
3. Exercise – Body movement is beneficial for many things but in the case of happiness, it’s better used as a preventative measure against depression. Exercising helps boost energy, relieves stress and increases both physical and mental well-being. Even just walking outside for 15-30 minutes a day can help! Increased exposure to natural light can help raise your spirits!
4. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – Talk it out with a professional psychotherapist to help you see your patterns of negative thinking and learn how to overcome them.
5. Spend time with Uplifting People – Cut out people in your life that suck the life out of you! Joy is contagious, by being around happy people, you’re bound to absorb some of their happiness too! So surround yourself with those that energize and build you up. It may be hard to do at first but it’s definitely worth it!
*Please consult with a health care practitioner prior to taking any new supplements
1. Probiotics – Having sufficient amounts of “good” bacteria is vital for optimal health. A happy gut = better mood.
2. Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) – Though is known as a fat soluble vitamin, it is actually a powerful hormone that has a major role in the conversion of amino acids to neurotransmitters such as tryptophan to serotonin and tyrosine to dopamine and norepinephrine. Some say there are unclear scientific evidence for the use of Vitamin D3 for SAD, I still think it is beneficial as many of us are deficient in Vitamin D with the lack of sunshine around during the Fall & Winter months.
3. Fish Oil – Omega-3 Fatty Acids nourish brain cells (EPA & DHA).
4. Vitamin C – Needed for serotonin production.
5. L-Tryptophan – Helps increase serotonin levels. Are also found in turkey, eggs, salmon, pineapple, spirulina, nuts & seeds.
6. 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) – Is the direct precursor to serotonin produced from tryptophan. It helps increase brain serotonin levels which helps boost happiness.
7. Melatonin – Can support balance to sleep/wake cycles and mood. It is found that patients affected with SAD have higher daytime melatonin levels which results in sleepiness, lack of motivation and a depressed mood due to lower levels of serotonin and vitamin D. This supplement works best on people who are low on melatonin as those with normal levels can actually be energized when taking melatonin supplement.
8. L-Tyrosine – A precursor to dopamine. It is a natural antidepressant that attributes to an overall sense of well-being by promoting powerful enkephalines, a pleasure-inducing chemical that’s cousins with endorphins..
9. SAMe (S-adenosyl-methionine) – The active form of the amino acid methionine. It is a methyl donor (can pass through methyl groups to other chemicals in the body) and participates in a wide variety of biochemical reactions. In conduction with other methyl donors, it helps optimize serotonin and dopamine.
10. St. John’s Wort – The most widely used natural herbal treatment for mild to moderate depressions. It inhibits reuptake of various neurotransmitters, including serotonin. Has mood balancing properties and has supportive effects on mental and emotional function. It is also good to keep in mind that it may cause sensitivity to exposure to sunlight when taking this supplement. **St. Johns Wort can alter metabolisms of many medications so please consult with your physician prior to taking.
In general, increasing exposure to light, eating a well-balanced diet, sleeping well and exercising are important first steps in preventing SAD symptoms. If you find you are severely affected and having thoughts of suicide, please be sure to see a health care professional that can devise a treatment plan that’s right for you.
I wish you a happy & healthy day!
The contents of this website are for informational purposes only and do not render medical advice, opinion, diagnosis, or treatment. The information provided through this website should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease. It is not a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you may have a medical problem, you should consult your appropriate health care provider.