Got the Winter Blues? How to Overcome Seasonal Affective Disorder Naturally
An estimated 2-3% of Canadians struggle with seasonal affective disorder. That may sound like a small percentage, but the disorder affects nearly a million Canadians. Did that open your eyes?
Now before you get the idea that depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder are one in the same, they are not. SAD typically occurs within the fall and winters months when there is an average of 2-4 hours of sunlight per day in comparison to the spring and summer when there is an average of 8-10 hours of sunlight.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that individuals experience in the fall/winter months due to decreased exposure to sunlight and lower levels of vitamin D. It is common for individuals to experience the onset of symptoms at the same time each year, usually as the hours of sunlight start to decrease.
SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER SYMPTOMS
Feelings of depression
Sleep problems - sleeping for longer hours than usual or not feeling rested after getting adequate sleep
Anxiousness or irritability
Low energy and fatigue
Loss of interest in certain activities
Changes in appetite
Sluggish, tired and achey feelings
Overeating - eating late at night, typically sugar or processed foods (foods that will give you a spike in energy!)
WHY IS SUNLIGHT SO IMPORTANT?
Sunlight increases Vitamin D levels as it is synthesized through the skin and triggered by exposure to UVB (Ultraviolet B) radiation. It has been estimated that nearly one billion people have either a vitamin D insufficiency or deficiency caused by lack of sunlight exposure. Researchers have been examining the relationship of vitamin D to Seasonal Affective Disorder and have found that as little as one hour of light therapy (or time spent in the sun) dramatically reduced depressive symptoms.
The sun causes hormonal changes? You betcha! If we step back and approach the disorder from a hormonal perspective, we can view it as a drop in serotonin levels and an increase in melatonin (our sleeping hormone!). Our pineal gland (a small gland situated just above our cerebellum at the same level as our eyes) is responsible for producing melatonin, which moves through our bloodstream and is carried out throughout our entire body. Naturally, as the days get shorter and there is a limited amount of sunlight, we find ourselves starting to get more and more tired as the day goes on.
Serotonin on the other hand, is a chemical that is produced by our nerve cells and acts as a chemical messenger between cells. You might have heard the word tryptophan used in the same sentence as serotonin and that is because the two go hand in hand - kind of like peanut butter and jam. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, meaning our bodies cannot make it, and therefore we need to eat it. This handy amino acid is needed to produce serotonin, which in turn promotes feelings of calmness, relaxation and sleepiness. It is commonly used to treat individuals with insomnia and can have a dramatic effect with a small 1-2 gram dosage. In addition to helping to deliver that sleepiness feeling, tryptophan helps to metabolize carbohydrates, proteins and fats. In order to properly metabolize tryptophan, you need an adequate amount of vitamin B6, C, folic acid and magnesium.
TRYPTOPHAN RICH FOODS
Exposing your beautiful face to the sun, sets and resets your circadian rhythms, or internal clock as I like to call it. A circadian rhythm is a physiological 24-hour cycle that creates natural sleep and wake for individuals. You likely experience energetic patterns or tendencies throughout the day, such as a peak of energy during the day and a drop in the evening as the amount of sunlight changes.
How to recover from Seasonal Affective Disorder
Spend at least 30 minutes in the sun each day.
Do your best to get outside and expose yourself to the sunlight, work at a desk facing a window or even choose the seat on the bus that will get you closest to the rays. The more often you see the sun, the better chance you have at replenishing your Vitamin D stores and resetting your circadian rhythm.
Supplement with Vitamin D (the active form of D is commonly known as D3 or cholecalciferol)
Ensure that you are obtaining an adequate amount of vitamin D through your diet (fish liver oil, fatty fish, eggs…etc).
Calculate your optimal individual intake for vitamin D by multiplying your bodyweight by 27 to obtain the exact dosage in international units (IU’s).
Ie: 150 lbs X 27 = 4050 IU/day
This dosage will change based on the number of hours you spend in the sun and your diet.
It doesn’t have to be strenuous and leave you gasping on the floor for air. Just move.
Exercising regularly increases levels of brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) which affects our nervous system and encourages the growth of new blood vessels while boosting serotonin levels and reducing mental fatigue.
Use Essential Oils
You didn’t think the Aromatherapist in training would leave out essential oils did you? This is the best supplemental approach you can take to beating Seasonal Affective Disorder without the use of traditional medications and drugs.
A spicy, warm and uplifting oil that boosts both your mood and metabolism!
Has an uplifting, sweet and fruity smell that helps to reduce stress, anxiety and insomnia
An uplifting, sweet and cheerful oil improves blood circulation and is both mood and energy boosting. I love adding a few drops to my water to help me get my 3 litres in each day!
Decreases mood swings and insomnia, increases production of melatonin while reducing feelings of anxiousness and stress.
A natural antidepressant that helps to reduce the feeling of depression and stress, while promoting a sense of calmness and acting as a mild sedative.
A natural combat to stress that helps to promote relaxation while fighting depression like symptoms. I like to take the oil internally in tea at night or diffuse it with Lavender or Serenity at night to help me get a deep, restful sleep.
Want to learn more about essential oils and get samples sent your way? Click here!
Cock, Valérie Cochen De. “Objective Measures of the Sleep–Wake Cycle in Parkinson’s Disease.” Disorders of Sleep and Circadian Rhythms in Parkinson's Disease, 2015, pp. 51–60., doi:10.1007/978-3-7091-1631-9_4.
Cohen, Joe. “Top 16 Proven Health Benefits of Sun.” Selfhacked, 27 Nov. 2018
“L-Tryptophan: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions, Dosage, and Warning.” WebMD, WebMD, 2017
Penckofer, Sue, et al. “Vitamin D and Depression: Where Is All the Sunshine?” Issues in Mental Health Nursing, vol. 31, no. 6, 1 June 2011, pp. 385–393., doi:10.3109/01612840903437657
Scaccia, Annamarya. “Serotonin: Functions, Side Effects, and More.” Healthline, Healthline Media, May 2017, www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/serotonin.
Weber, Helga. “How to Calculate Your Personal Vitamin D Dosage.” Vitamin D3 – Cholecalciferol, 2017, vitamind3-cholecalciferol.com/vitamin-d-dosage/.