When I walked out this morning, I was greeted with the welcomed (albeit cold) bite of changing weather. It served as a reminder that this is the time of year where the sun becomes less present, and we may start to get a little S.A.D. So, let’s take this opportunity to talk about Seasonal Affective Disorder and how we can bring a little light into our lives during these tumultuous times.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D), or “seasonal depression,” is a kind of depression that occurs cyclically, usually during the winter months (though it can also occur in the warm months). It can make you feel exhausted, dreary, and, well…just plain sad. It’s important not to brush these feelings aside; these feelings are very real and a result of an internal imbalance brought upon by environmental change. Think of them as messengers telling you that you need to take steps to attune your microcosm (mind/body) to the macrocosm (environment).
Causes & Symptoms of S.A.D
There are many symptoms associated with S.A.D including but not limited to:
Depression & Anxiety
Fatigue, oversleeping, restlessness, & poor sleep patterns
Irritability or feeling stagnant
Loss of interest in activities you usually enjoy
Appetite & weight changes
Slower gut motility
Headaches & body aches
Feeling of heaviness
The symptoms associated with S.A.D primarily have to do with how lack of sunlight and other environmental changes can influence your body and mind. These environmental fluctuations can
Throw off your circadian flow (the system that tells your body when to be awake and when to sleep)
Throw off your body’s production of melatonin and serotonin, which are involved with mood, appetite, and sleep.
Influence your body’s ability to produce ample Vitamin D, which may be associated with mood imbalances.
S.A.D, Isolation, & COVID
This is of course also the time of year when depression can peak because while many enjoy the Holidays, there are those without access to loved ones who can feel intense loneliness & isolation. Unfortunately, these feelings will be heightened due to the fact that our world is still fighting a global pandemic. In order to stay safe, especially if you are in a high-risk population, you are going to have to find nontraditional ways of receiving community and companionship. Please know that you are not alone in feeling this way and that you can reach out to us anytime for resources on how to find connection and support.
For those of us in the healthcare world, it will be especially important to be mindful of our patients’ moods and behaviors so we can implement empathy and early supportive interventions.
What to Do
Seek Professional Healthcare: Many of us will experience some semblance of seasonal depression, and sometimes we can use self-care to move through these feelings. But if you’re starting to realize your mood is continually low, or if you’re avoiding daily activities, please seek help from your doctor (PCP) and create an integrative plan that addresses your specific needs in body, mind, and soul. Your PCP can also provide some self-care recommendations, discern if pharmaceuticals can be helpful, or see if there are any additional underlying issues contributing to your mood.
Psychotherapy is a great tool that everybody can benefit from. Think of a trained therapist as someone you can spend time with and talk to while they hold compassionate and objective space for you AND give you tools to navigate and manage these feelings.
Acupuncture: Acupuncture is a great treatment option for harmonizing your mind and body with the environment. Acupuncture can help seasonal depression through: mood balancing, improving sleep quality, increasing energy, improving circulation, regulating digestion, managing pain, and simply giving the spirit a lift.
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 do your research on how to use these safely and appropriately.
Mind/Body Therapies: Consider taking up some mind/body exercises like yoga, tai chi, qigong, meditation, and/or music therapy. You can reach out to us or your primary care provider for local resources.
Brighten Your Environment & Get Outside: Open blinds/curtains, trim plants/trees that block daylight, and sit close to windows at home and/or at work. Take a long walk and be outside; even on cloudy days, natural light and air can lift your mood.
Exercise Regularly. Exercise is crucial for your mood and sense of wellbeing. Try to get at least 15-30 min of movement daily. Even if this just means walking around the block, doing a short home exercise video, taking the dog for a stroll, or going up and down the stairs a few times. Even better if you can get some outdoor movement!
Vitamins & Supplements: There are several supplements that may help combat seasonal depression. However, it is crucial that you speak with your primary care provider before adding any vitamins, supplements, or herbs to your regimen so they can make sure it is safe and appropriate for YOU.
Vitamin D: Taking a Vitamin D supplement may help mitigate some feelings of depression.
B-Complex: A sublingual B-Complex can be especially helpful for giving your body a natural energy boost in the morning.
St John's Wort: St John's Wort has been used for centuries as a natural mood-balancing remedy due to its ability to act as a natural SSRI. While there is evidence to support its use – it interacts with many herbal and pharmaceutical substances; you must consult with your primary care provider before starting St John’s Wort.
Custom Herbal Formulas: Both Dr. Colby & Andrea have extensive professional training in herbalism. We can create custom formulas designed just for you to help alleviate seasonal depression and its associated symptoms.
Our training enables us to ensure they are safe and appropriate for use based on your current medications and supplements. We keep over 100 individual herbal medicinals in our apothecary and adhere to all safety guidelines and standards for safe preparation and dispensing.
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. Consider adding in some tea to your beverage regimen to replace coffee from time to time (Click here to learn about some health benefits of tea vs. coffee!)
Avoid iced beverages as much as possible since they can inhibit circulation, digestion, and nutrient absorption.
We’ll finish with this – Seasonal Depression is a very real condition, and there are many tools and resources you can employ to address it. You are not alone, and your feelings matter! We are here for you and can offer tools and resources that touch on all these areas, so please reach out to us to see how we can help you. Be kind to yourself and give yourself the same love that you would give a loved one.