Seasonal Affective Disorder
An article by Yvonne Davies, Natural Therapist
The changing of seasons can affect us both emotionally and physically. The days are getting shorter and the sun is setting earlier leading into the long dark evenings. With the lack of sunlight in the winter months, many people start to feel a bit down, tired, anxious or even outright depressed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.). Symptoms can appear in late Autumn and last through the Winter to early Spring. Generally, the condition is due to the low sunlight of these months, and the long periods of darkness. Our health and mood is tied to the exposure to sunlight; serotonin levels rise when exposed to bright light and melatonin levels rise and fall with light and darkness. When it's dark melatonin levels increase and that's why we feel tired when the sun starts to set. Light and darkness also controls our biological clocks which impacts on hormones that regulate appetite and metabolism.
There are several things you can put in place now to help avoid or reduce the symptoms:
• Try and increase the amount of natural light that comes into your home. Keep curtains and blinds open. If tree branches block your windows, trim them back..
• On sunny winter days, get out for a short walk, run or cycle every day. Even if winter light doesn’t have much intensity, a dose of real sun is far more effective than indoor bulbs. In fact, one study showed that an hour’s walk in winter sunlight was as effective at reducing SAD symptoms as two and a half hours walking under bright artificial light. Regular physical activity has been found to work better than antidepressant drugs; it’s one of the most powerful strategies available to prevent and treat depression and boost your mood..
• Consider buying a good S.A.D. Lamp/light box. These have been shown to help by boosting the amount of full spectrum light that hits our eyes. This may be a more ideal way to optimise your vitamin D, allowing you to minimise the amount of oral vitamin D you need to take..
• Vitamin D3 supplements (avoid vitamin D2 as it may do more harm than good in the long term) If you do opt for a supplement, take vitamin K2 and magnesium in conjunction with it. Vitamin D is fat soluble so taking some form of healthy fat with it will also help optimise absorption. Vitamin A, zinc, and boron are other important cofactors that interact with vitamin D.
• it’s also important to adjust your diet to avoid cold, dampening foods such as dairy, raw vegetables, or cold ice cream, which can worsen the effects of the climate on the body. Avoid processed foods and eat protein and fermented foods that will enhance your gut health and ultimately your mood. Your gut actually produces more mood-regulating serotonin than your brain does. Don’t overdo sugary foods as these can an have a detrimental impact on your brain function and mental health in general. Refined sugar may give you an initial energy and mood lift, but afterward your energy plummets and so will your mood. Eating a diet of fresh, whole foods will support your mental health.
• Meditate. Getting a daily dose of meditation, even just 5 minutes in the morning and evening, helps keep the mind calm and clear. Having those moments to allow the mind to be free of habitual thoughts will help to lighten your mood.
• Take herbs if you know you are susceptible to S.A.D. Start as winter starts, don’t wait to feel the symptoms. Consider taking St John's Wort to help lift your mood, take 40 to 60 drops of tincture in a glass of cold water three times a day. Within the last 20 years, studies have shown that it indirectly helps to increase the mood-boosting brain chemical serotonin. However, consult with a herbalist or your own GP before taking it if you are taking other medication). Other herbs that can lift your mood and quell anxiety include Lime blossom, Passionflower and Ginseng. Cinnamon, oregano and rosemary have great effects on S.A.D. so add some to your meals. These will also keep your digestion working well.
• Going to sleep early, and/or addressing insomnia. We were designed to go to sleep when the sun sets and wake up when the sun rises. Straying too far from this biological pattern will disrupt hormonal cycles in your body, which can affect both your mood and your health. The link between depression and lack of sleep is well established.
• Plan your longest vacation during the winter months, and get away to a warm, sunny climate if at all possible. Just one or two weeks away from the winter gloom can provide welcome relief from SAD symptoms.
• Take a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement that contains vitamin B6, thiamin, and folic acid. Studies have shown that all of these B vitamins can benefit mood.
• Tell your family and friends about your SAD, and enlist their support. If they’re aware that you’re more susceptible to blue moods on dark days, they can help plan activities.
• To prevent mood swings, stay away from alcohol. A drink or two might help dispel anxiety or relieve stress for a short while. But because alcohol is a depressant, your mood plummets when the buzz wears off.
Yvonne is a practitioner of natural therapies. Please contact Kensal Health Works on 0208 969 4030 or Yvonne direct on 07747417856 if you wish to make an appointment.
MAMH DiPNaturop, DipHerb, DipIrid
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