Winter is in full force, which means shorter and colder days, little sunlight and a great amount of time spent indoors. For those who struggle with seasonal affective disorder, otherwise known as seasonal depression, winter is arguably the most difficult time of the year.
The most common symptoms of seasonal affective disorder are increased sleep, daytime drowsiness, heightened irritability, anxiety, loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed, decreased libido, inability to concentrate, weight gain and overwhelming feelings of sadness and hopelessness.
Seasonal affective disorder is largely due to a shift in our chemical balance that is caused by a lack of exposure to sunlight – the most essential component for vitamin D production. Our bodies depend on vitamin D to increase our serotonin levels – the hormones directly responsible for our happiness. As the days turn shorter and the nights become longer, melatonin is overproduced. When we’re exposed to darkness, the production of melatonin is increased which can leave us feeling fatigued, sluggish and disconnected with life.
If you suffer from seasonal affective disorder, it is very important to consult with your doctor about your depression. Cognitive behavioral therapy is an excellent way to openly talk about your struggles and find effective solutions. Seasonal affective disorder is nothing to be ashamed of and asking for help is essential to overcome it. But overcoming seasonal depression is not remedied by taking one step. Struggles with mental health are complex and multifaceted and so are their solutions. We have drawn up a list of natural remedies to supplement your lifestyle this winter to better help you combat your seasonal depression.
GET A DAILY DOSE OF VITAMIN D
Sunshine is nature’s source of vitamin D – a lipid soluble vitamin that is synthesized in our skin in the presence of sunlight. During the winter months, it is extremely easy to become deficient in vitamin D.
This vitamin is widely known for its role in maintaining bone integrity, although more studies are now showing its direct correlation to brain health. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to many problems such as dementia, depression, diabetes mellitus, autism and schizophrenia.
Talk to your doctor about trying a liposomal vitamin D. Liposomal vitamins have an easier time passing through the blood-brain barrier and are more easily absorbed by the body.
Another option for getting adequate vitamin D is a light therapy lamp. Investing in a light therapy lamp can also help compensate for the lack of exposure to the sun. An effective light therapy lamp can help rewire your biological clock, regulate your body’s circadian rhythm and sleep patterns, increase alertness and activate your body’s production of serotonin. It’s important to be mindful when using light therapy lamps as too much time using them can lead to the same damaging effects of the sun.
FIND A FORM OF DAILY MOVEMENT
With winter comes bad weather – which makes getting out of the house and into the gym or even outside that much more difficult. Finding a form of daily movement has been shown to make a serious difference in those suffering from seasonal depression.
Here’s how it helps: high-intensity exercise releases the body’s feel-good chemicals called endorphins, resulting in what people call a “runner’s high.” But if HIIT workouts aren’t your cup of tea, don’t worry – there’s also serious value in low-intensity exercise. That kind of activity spurs the release of proteins called neurotrophic or growth factors, which cause nerve cells to grow and make new connections – leading to improvements in brain functions and an overall better mood.
Try to find one or two forms of physical activity you love and look forward to and schedule a time for each day to accomplish one. It doesn’t matter if it’s fifteen minutes or a full hour, all movement counts! Movement is the body’s natural way to relieve tension and stress, improve both mental and physical energy and create a general state of wellbeing.
CUT OUT PROCESSED FOODS
When we’re stressed and depressed, our brain seeks comfort in the form of sugary or processed foods. These foods provide a quick dopamine release that provides a quick fix to a much deeper problem.
Too much sugar, processed foods and seed oils can lead to inflammation in the brain and the body. Systemic inflammation has been shown to worsen both anxiety and depression, potentially causing a depressive-eating cycle that’s hard to escape from.
Create a mindful and balanced diet that fuels your body, your mind and your happiness. The best place to start is by cutting out packaged and processed foods. Most packaged foods contain pro-inflammatory ingredients and hidden sugars, and many of which are often disguised as “vegan” or “healthy” options (with ingredients like palm oil, canola oil and sugar alternatives).
Ninety-five percent of serotonin is created in the gut and giving proper attention to the quality of foods we eat can stabilize our moods and make us happy.
EAT MORE OF THE *RIGHT* FAT
For years we’ve been told to stay away from fat and cholesterol for better health – but little do most people know that saturated fats are vital for a healthy, functional body.
A meta-analysis in the Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience found that low levels of blood cholesterol—potentially caused by inadequate fat in the diet—were associated with a greater risk of being deeply depressed or suicidal. In fact, the findings showed that people with the lowest cholesterol levels had a whopping 112% higher risk of suicidal thoughts.
The brain, which is 60% fat, can’t function optimally without sufficient levels of those nutrients. More and more studies have shown that very low cholesterol impairs your ability to effectively synthesize and transport neurotransmitters like mood-boosting serotonin.
So, which fats are best? Find good-quality omega-3s. Omega-3 fatty acids are highly concentrated in the brain and associated with increased levels of ‘good’ HDL cholesterol. Omega-3 deficiency in adults has actually been linked to mood swings and depression, while an over-consumption of omega-6 fats (seed + vegetable oils) has been linked to systemic inflammation. Good sources of omega-3 include fish like albacore tuna and salmon, grass-fed meats and dairy, pasture-raised eggs and grass-fed butter. Stearic acid supplements like this one can also provide a good source of brain-boosting cholesterol.
TRY A MAGNESIUM SUPPLEMENT
Your sleep should never be treated as an afterthought. Rest is the foundation for both your physical and mental wellbeing. But when seasonal depression alters your sleep schedule, it can be hard to get back on track.
This is where a solid magnesium supplement may help. Magnesium is a nutrient that plays a major role in 300+ bodily functions, with a major one being sleep regulation. When taken before bed, magnesium (specifically, magnesium *glycinate*) helps the body enter a “rest and recovery” state, making it easier to fall asleep. We love this magnesium supplement from BiOptimizers, although you should always talk to your doctor before trying a new supplement.
For additional sleep support, aim to go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time. Allow yourself at least an hour before bed to wind down by avoiding electronics and slowing down on tasks that might increase stress. When you sleep well you act well. Take the time to understand how many hours your body needs for optimal function and aim for that amount each night.
PRIORITIZE SELF-CARE LIKE IT’S YOUR JOB
Seasonal depression can really throw us off in the self care department. Simple tasks such as brushing your teeth, showering or waking up in the morning can be extremely difficult for someone suffering with depression.
Choose to make self care a priority. A morning and nighttime self care ritual can be as simple as washing your face, showering, brushing your teeth and putting on clean clothes. Self care is also about doing the things that make you happy. If you love movies, watch some funny ones. If you love to read, pick up a happy book. If you love being with your friends and family, carve out some time to spend with them instead of isolating yourself. Take time each day to do something you love, be with someone you love and do the things that make you feel good.
Your happiness is your priority in this life. If you struggle with seasonal affective disorder, try out these natural remedies! Be an active participant in your mental health journey and get to know what works best for you, and remember to always be patient and kind to yourself along the way.
Born and raised on the island of Puerto Rico, Kaylee is a college graduate navigating the ebb and flow of this world. She loves yoga, snorkeling and falling off of paddle boards. She has too many favorite movies. And you can always find her procrastinating with a good show, a murder mystery novel or eating dates with too much peanut butter.