As we say our goodbyes to visiting family, start to list our New Year’s Resolutions, and try to get back to a normal schedule, it’s common for the mid-winter blues to set in. The next few months can be trying for anyone in a cooler climate, and it’s not a coincidence. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is defined by the National Institute of Mental Health as a cyclical subset of depression that occurs with a semi-regular seasonal pattern (usually over the winter), and can manifest as moodiness, lethargy, insomnia, and changes in eating patterns.
People who experience depression often lose interest in activities once enjoyed, and may feel similarly unmotivated by their social relationships and career goals. If these symptoms sound familiar, there are several natural ways to combat the onset of SAD.
How to Fight Back Against Seasonal Affective Disorder
Get Your Vitamin D
It can be increasingly difficult as the snowy winter wears on to get sufficient Vitamin D, which is a critical nutrient for combating SAD. Vitamin D helps regulate immune and nervous system health, and is required for maximum calcium absorption, thereby keeping our bones dense and our brains functioning at full capacity. It also plays a significant role in our mental health by helping to encourage production and release of serotonin, one of our “happy” neurotransmitters. To increase Vitamin D absorption in the winter, try setting your alarm earlier, and incorporate sitting by a window or taking a brief walk as part of your morning routine.
Foods that provide significant Vitamin D include:
This can prove challenging for people with dietary restrictions; even in the summer, many vegetarians and vegans struggle to get sufficient dietary Vitamin D. Considering natural supplements, or small amounts of fortified juices, especially orange juice (with pulp to combat the high sugar concentration), can help to break the barrier and support our serotonin regulation.
Consistent exercise has been demonstrated to reliably improve sleep patterns, and can aid in relieving insomnia associated with SAD or clinical depression. Exercise also provides a boost to serotonin and other endorphin levels that can act as positive stimulants. In conjunction with a healthy diet and sufficient Vitamin D to regulate serotonin reuptake, exercise is a powerful force for balancing hormones, providing relief from melancholy moods and boosting energy production.
Start small; keep your New Year’s Resolutions regarding exercise tied to manageable, incremental, and measurable steps to keep yourself motivated and accountable. Try starting with twenty minutes or more a day, a few days a week. By participating in physical activity that you find engaging like cardio dance class, tennis, boxing or pilates, you are more inclined to keep with it, and adding a buddy into the equation helps insurmountably with accountability!
Eat Clean & Incorporate Mood-Boosting Foods
In the same vein, eating clean is a common goal people set for the New Year, but it can mean different things to different people. What foods do you notice that give you sustained energy and make your body feel good? Pay attention to what makes you feel sluggish, drained, or in a fit on indigestion, especially added sugars, caffeine, and alcohols. Schedule a consultation and let us help you find a nutrition plan that works with your biochemistry and doesn’t feel like a chore. To combat SAD, eating foods rich in amino acids like tryptophan and fatty acids can regulate your happy hormone levels and protect your brain. Seek out spinach, nuts, poultry, and fish.
Foster Meaningful Connections
Human contact through touch, words of affection, and quality time spent with others is crucial to preventing isolation, improving mood, and tempering the effects of seasonal affective disorder. Take the time to reach out to friends and loved ones who may be suffering, and try to communicate with those you trust if you are feeling the winter blues. Check-ins and small activities break us out of our routine and prevent us from wallowing. Reaching out to others can keep you on track with goals and resolutions.
This January first, and every other day, take the time to make your mental health a priority. SAD is a real phenomenon, and we can take small steps to combat it and feel better.
If you find yourself unable to function and live your normal life, feel depressed more often than not, or have thoughts of suicide, incremental improvements through lifestyle may not help as much as mental health professionals can. Finding the right therapist or psychiatrist for you can make a world of difference at any time of year. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) helpline number is 1 (800) 622-HELP (4357) for 24/7 support in English and Spanish, and the Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1 (800) 273-8255.
Take care, and happy new year!
How to Fight & Prevent Seasonal Affective DIsorder is written by Lana Butner for www.drlanawellness.com