I don’t know about you, but when I walked out of my house this morning I was greeted with the cold bite of winter weather! It served as a painful reminder that this is the time of year where the sun starts to become a little less present, and I start to get a little S.A.D. So, let’s take this opportunity to talk about Seasonal Affective Disorder, and how to brighten the winter gloom.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D) is a kind of depression that occurs cyclically, usually during the winter months. This season of crummy weather, shorter days, and longer nights can make you feel exhausted, dreary, and well…just plain sad! However, it’s important not to brush the “winter blues” aside because they are simply trying inform you of an internal imbalance resulting from the changes in your environment. More importantly, they serve as a reminder to take steps to balance and harmonize your internal energy with your external environment.
Causes & Symptoms
As previously mentioned, S.A.D is most prevalent in the late fall and winter months. Common symptoms include: depression, loneliness, boredom, fatigue, heaviness, oversleeping, social withdrawal, appetite and weight changes, difficulty concentrating, and a loss of interest in activities you usually enjoy.
From the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine, we look at S.A.D as an example how the flow of Qi is influenced by the various climates. Cold weather makes your Qi feel frigid and stagnate, dampness makes you feel dull and heavy, and the lack of sunlight makes you feel tired and simply want to hibernate until Spring. Additionally, Autumn and Winter are associated with the Metal and Water elements, which are associated with the emotions of grief and fear - the two emotions (of relative degrees) people with S.A.D experience.
From a Western perspective, the symptoms associated with S.A.D have to do with how the lack of sunlight influences physiology. Your body has an inner biological clock (the circadian flow) that tells you when to be awake and when to sleep. With the reduced amount of sunlight this time of year, the circadian flow gets thrown off, which disrupts our sleep quality and energy levels throughout the day. Additionally, decreased sunshine is associated with lower levels of serotonin and melatonin, two hormones heavily involved with mood, appetite, and sleep. Lastly, the lack of sunlight also prevents your body from producing viable levels of Vitamin D, and Vitamin D deficiency is now being connected with mood imbalances. This is, of course, also the time of year where depression can peak because while many of us enjoy the Holidays, there are those without a close pack of loved ones who can feel isolated and lonely.
What To Do
Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine: Acupuncture and herbal medicine are great treatment options for harmonizing your Qi flow with the climate and returning your mind and body to balance. Acupuncture and herbal medicine have also been shown to regulate neurotransmitter activity, which can help harmonize your serotonin and melatonin levels so you can experience a more balanced mood, better sleep, and more energy. We can also provide guidelines with nutrition, thought patterns, and other lifestyle modifications to help you feel your best.
Phototherapy: This is exactly what it sounds like –therapeutic exposure to light that mimics the sun! It’s important to make sure you’re using a high-quality light therapy device, and that you’re working with somebody who knows how to properly expose you in terms of dosage and length.
Psychotherapy is also a great option. Sometimes we just need to have a person who we can spend time with and talk to about how we’re feeling, and sometimes it’s best if that person is a compassionate and trained professional who can offer an objective ear and objective advice.
Brighten your environment & Get Outside: Open blinds, trim tree branches that block daylight and sit closer to bright windows while at home or in the office. Take a long walk, and be outside (just bundle up!). Even on cold or cloudy days, natural light and air can help improve and balance your mood.
Exercise regularly. I cannot stress enough how great exercise is for your mood, it does wonders for you by encouraging smooth and abundant flow of energy, while elevating mood and sense of well being.
Vitamin D: Taking a Vitamin D supplement (if you're not already taking it) can help mitigate some feelings of depression - but be sure to consult with your preferred health care provider before adding any new vitamins or supplements into your regimen.
B-Complex: A sublingual B-Complex can be especially helpful for giving your body a natural energy boost in the morning - this can be especially helpful for women with underlying hormonal imbalances. As with the Vitamin D, consult with your preferred health care provider before adding this to your regimen.
St John's Wort*: St John's Wort has been used for centuries as a natural mood-balancing remedy. While there is evidence to support its use - it's an herb that is HIGHLY interactive with many herbal and pharmaceutical substances. This is why I normally recommend patient's try out a custom decoction instead of St John's Wort. Both Dr. Colby and I are extensively trained in Chinese Herbal Medicinals, and can provide you with a custom formula that is effective and safe.
Moderate foods that are associated with generating inflammation and phlegm in your body such as white bread, sweets, soda, dairy products, and processed foods.
Be sure to increase the amount of warm foods such as bone broth, stews, chili, and steamed veggies (stay tuned for an upcoming blog on healthy nutrition for the Winter!).
Avoid iced beverages as much as possible since they will constrict the flow of both Qi and blood as well as inhibit digestion and nutrient absorption.
"Happy" Foods: Omega-3 Rich foods like fish and walnuts, oysters, green leafy vegetables, a hearty breakfast, goji berries, blueberries, and black strap molasses.
That's all we have for today - until next time, stay warm and cozy!