Some people know the third Monday in January as Blue Monday, because it is supposed to be the saddest day of the year. For a number of people, the winter blues aren’t just limited to one day. SAD, or seasonal affective disorder, is a type of depression that affects people in the winter months because of the darkness from shorter days and grayer skies. Less natural sunlight, shorter days and colder weather can really affect your mood. It has been estimated that as many as 9% of U.S. adults experience symptoms of SAD. It is more common in women than men, and in the north than the south.
Symptoms of SAD can be low energy, anxiety attacks, weight gain, sleeping too much, and decreased libido, all of which typically begin in the late fall and alleviate in the spring. But here is the good news. People with SAD often respond very well to light therapy (phototherapy) and vitamin D supplementation, as well as other forms of natural medicine. Be sure to talk to your doctor about symptoms you are experiencing, for a proper diagnosis.
Vitamin D: Start taking a vitamin D supplement now. Even better, have your levels assessed at your doctor’s office using a simple blood test known as serum 25OHD. Vitamin D3 is now known to be useful for not only bone health, but also immune system health, inflammation, against all forms of cancer, and of course mood.
Light Therapy: People with SAD have higher levels of melatonin, the brain chemical that induces sleep. Light therapy is helpful for SAD because full-spectrum lighting regulates the production of melatonin. Melatonin regulates daily patterns. Full-spectrum light bulbs and light boxes are available.
Other things that you can do to stay ahead of the game are:
Regular outdoor exercise: Don’t let the cold stop you. Dress appropriately and enjoy the outdoors. Snowshoeing, skiing, making snowmen and other outdoor activities expose you to some sun and get you moving. We went tubing last weekend and got some sunshine, exercise and family time. We felt rejuvenated!
Proper rest: Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up around the same time every morning. Establishing good sleep habits is very important to feeling restful.
Enjoyable mental activities: Read a challenging book, do a crossword puzzle, or play scrabble!
Deal with stress in positive ways: Being social can lift your spirits. The key is to get your attention and thoughts away from yourself. Go for a walk with a friend, share your feelings and don’t keep things bottled up.
Dietary treatment: Treating SAD nutritionally begins by an assessment of nutritional status and toxin levels. Nutritional deficiencies can alter the functioning of the nervous system. B vitamins are known as the “stress vitamins.” Taking a complete B-complex formula can help both your brain and your adrenal glands function effectively; the adrenal glands produce hormones that enable our bodies to fight stress. B vitamins are also needed to optimize neurotransmitter production – in particular, vitamin B6. Also ensure that you are supporting your adrenal glands.
Whenever anyone is depressed, it is important to maintain stable blood sugar levels. Balancing blood sugar is important because fluctuations can aggravate SAD. Avoid caffeinated drinks, alcohol, tobacco, saturated fats, artificial sweeteners, wheat, refined flour products, refined sugar products, and any foods for which you have a sensitivity. Eat a whole foods diet, including fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains (especially oats) and nutritional yeast.