Jayney's Blog

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): What it is and how to treat it naturally

Each winter season about 10% of us experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It can be a seriously debilitating condition and can manifest a range of symptoms – including severe depression – as such it should be taken very seriously and should be treated before symptoms get out of hand.  Here are my top 5 natural ways to help you combat SAD.

Incidences of SAD are much higher in the closer you live to the North or South Poles – however because many of us living in more moderate climates rarely spend any time outdoors and our only light exposure is from light bulbs and fluorescent strips. SAD is yet another syndrome that is directly related to living in the developed world.  Only a relatively few years ago 75% of the people used to work outdoors in natural light as opposed to only 10% now. People living in cities tend to have more SAD symptoms as they tend to work indoors – and see very little daylight.

Symptoms usually begin in late autumn as the days shorten and the light diminishes. Symptoms often persist right through to late February/March and eventually disappear when spring arrives – but if you think about this year – we had virtually no spring – and seemed to go straight from winter into summer.  This lead to a much higher number of people presenting in my clinic with severe SAD symptoms.

What are the Symptoms of SAD

The most common SAD symptoms include:

Lethargy, lacking in energy, feeling demotivated

Suffering from low energy during the day and experiencing disturbed nights but nevertheless needing more sleep

Feelings of anxiety and an inability to cope

Social problems, moodiness, not wanting to see people

Feelings of sadness, gloom, despondency and depression for no apparent reason

Weight gain, increased appetite, craving carbohydrates and foods containing sugar

5 Ways to Treat SAD Naturally

1. Light Therapy 

Melatonin and serotonin are two key neurotransmitters that control our energy levels. When our melatonin levels increase we feel sleepy and serotonin is produced in the daytime keeping us awake and feeling good.  When we wake up to the daylight, our serotonin levels rise, which keeps us awake and focused. In the dark winter months, with diminished light exposure, the body produces excess levels of melatonin making us sleepy and increasing our risk of depression.

One of the best-proven SAD treatment strategies is the use of light boxes which mimic the light levels that we get in the daytime in summer which causes us to produce more serotonin. Many medically approved light boxes are available and are effective however they can be somewhat expensive.  SAD sufferers report great improvements in a relatively short period of use (avg 1-2 weeks).  Light boxes emit different strengths of light – or ‘Lux’ and depending upon the Lux levels that your device emits, this will determine how long you need to spend in front of the light.  Light boxes are really easy to use, you can place your box on a desk while you are working for example – so that you get the correct amount of exposure

2. Exercise SAD Away

Exercise is a vital stimulant when feeling low and helps the release of those ‘feel-good chemicals’, the endorphins. It is far healthier to exercise outside rather than in a gym overall and the bonus is that you will also be exposing yourself to natural outdoor light, thus restoring your circadian rhythms.

3. Ditch the Stimulants

There’s no doubt about it – stimulants are drugs which mess up our systems in numerous ways.  As soon as the weather begins to get cold, we suddenly become more attracted to stimulants such as coffee to wake us up, refined sugar to keep us happy and suppress uncomfortable feelings (emotional eating is a prime example of this) and then after all that stimulation we turn to the insidious – yet socially acceptable drug alcohol, with a glass of wine or two to help us relax in the evenings.

Use of these drugs instates a roller-coaster ride of energy swings which lead to weight gain, depression, hormonal imbalance and more.  Substitute use of these stimulants with more natural, nutrient rich wholefoods that your body can make sustainable energy from – and which will carry you happily through your day.

4. Get a Routine

One of the biggest issues with any form of depression, including SAD is that we begin to feel completely overwhelmed and it seems as though we can’t cope with the demands of our daily lives.  Once you have begin to use the strategies outlined above, you’ll begin to feel a bit more in control and now is the time to gradually set manageable goals.  For example, if you’ve decided to eat more healthily, you might start looking for recipes online that inspire you.  Commit to preparing one healthy dish per day – and stick to it.  Routine like this is a very useful tool in helping to eradicate depressive states.  Try to make your goals support your wellbeing,  consider committing to mindfulness meditation (proven to help alleviate depression) twice per day for only 20 minutes at a time.  You’ll find great (totally free) help with this on Dr Herbert Benson’s Relaxation Response website.

5. Complementary Therapies

See a complementary medical practitioner:  homeopathy, acupuncture, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, nutrition, massage and more have been shown to really help people feel better and get better.  You’ll find excellent practitioners on The Complementary Medical Association’s website: The-CMA.org.uk.

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