Battling the Winter Blues: Natural Solutions to Ease Seasonal Affective Disorder

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The Fall can mean hibernation for many with the dark and dreary days of winter approaching in the Okanagan. The lack of sunlight and colder weather can have a severe impact on our mood. It can leave us feeling tired, depressed, detached and unmotivated. Like everyone, you may notice a cooler night here, maybe a fiery-red leaf there, and certainly pumpkin spice lattes… everywhere. But instead of looking forward to these small signs of fall and winter, if you feel a little dread, you may be experiencing seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that commonly occurs during the fall and winter months when the days get shorter and there is a decline in daylight hours. It is also commonly referred to as the ‘winter blues’, though similarly to clinical depression, symptoms of SAD can cause significant difficulties in functioning and quality of life.

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

The symptoms of SAD are similar to depression. However, SAD is provoked by a decrease in daylight hours. While there is an overlap in symptoms between SAD and depression, the most compelling indicator is the course during which these symptoms occur. The symptoms will appear and disappear with the change in seasons.

The following are the most common symptoms of SAD:

  • exhaustion or low energy
  • daytime drowsiness or fatigue
  • irritability
  • difficulty concentrating
  • anxiety
  • suicidal thoughts
  • social withdrawal or avoidance
  • loss of interest
  • decreased sex drive
  • increased sleep or difficulty sleeping
  • weight gain

Causes of SAD

While the exact cause of SAD is not entirely known, researchers hypothesize that SAD may be linked to an imbalance in the brain. This imbalance impacts the production of serotonin and melatonin.

Serotonin is a “feel-good” neurotransmitter that helps to regulate our moods. Low levels of light are associated with a reduction in serotonin in the body. As serotonin levels drop, so does our mood. Low light levels also cause an increase in melatonin, the hormone that makes us feel sleepy.

Treatment for SAD

Light therapy

Light therapy is an effective way to reduce SAD symptoms. Light therapy consists of turning on a light box, which gives you exposure to bright light, for 15 to 30 minutes a day. It’s believed that light therapy resets our internal clock. Research has also shown that bright light exposure can increase levels of serotonin and decrease levels of melatonin.

Infrared Sauna

In 2016, the results of 2 studies examining patients with depression were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry. In the first study of 16 individuals with major depression, a single infrared sauna treatment reduced depression scores almost by 50% five days following therapy. A second, larger study, was then conducted where the benefits of a single sauna treatment persisted for six weeks. This is yet another drug-free option to help restore your mental health

Exercise

Yes, it can be challenging to get to the gym when you’re not feeling great. But exercise has been proven to alleviate depression, including SAD. Exercise encourages the production of feel-good chemicals that minimize depressive symptoms. If you can’t get to the gym, walking for 30 minutes has been shown to ease depression.

Go outdoors

Despite the drastic reduction in sunlight, get outside when you can. Bundle up and go out for a walk so you can soak up the natural sunlight.

Talk it out

Speaking to a counsellor or psychotherapist can be helpful. Together with a therapist, you can explore what else might be contributing to your changes in mood and discuss coping strategies to help alleviate symptoms.

If you are experiencing depressive symptoms that seem to fluctuate with the transition of seasons, consider the possibility you are experiencing SAD. The strategies above might help to prevent or reduce these symptoms and improve your experience of the fall and winter seasons. If you would like to take a drug-free team approach to prevent and manage SAD, our team of Naturopathic Doctors, alongside clinical counselling can help a great deal! Don’t suffer, call us today!

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