Depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder: Natural Treatment Alternatives
By: C.R. Robinson
As a resident of the Midwest, I have lived all my life with the beauty (and the beast) that is commonly referred to as the changing of the seasons. There is something so great about those first snowflakes starting to fall as winter slowly approaches. But then, when the days become ever shorter, the cold ever colder, and the sunlight seems to disappear from your life, the miracle of that first snowfall can easily become a distant memory.
During these winter months, when the sunlight is scarce, many people experience a form of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This condition can also be referred to as having the “Winter Blues.” For many, SAD can produce mild symptoms including feeling tired all the time, craving carbs and just feeling like you need more energy. When the symptoms of SAD are mild, they are often written off as the inevitable effects of the gloomy days of winter.
For some people however, the symptoms of SAD cannot be ignored or even tolerated. Severe symptoms of Winter Depression can adversely affect every part of a person’s daily routine and be truly life altering. Feelings of hopelessness and despair can be overwhelming. Chronic fatigue and the inability to focus on tasks or enjoy daily activities can be debilitating as well. While there are pharmaceutical drugs out there to deal with SAD and other forms of depression, many times the risks of side effects can outweigh the benefits. Dealing with a host of adverse side effects can potentially even exacerbate a SAD sufferer’s feelings of anxiety.
So what can you do? Well fortunately, there are some natural alternatives out there to help cope with depression, seasonal or otherwise.
When you feel depressed you may feel that you are always tired, listless and unmotivated. This is caused by a lack of Serotonin in the brain. Exercise can help to naturally increase the levels of Serotonin and boost your mood. Also, since increased appetite and weight gain may be symptoms of your depression, exercise can help to drop those added pounds. Losing weight and feeling your clothes fit better is definitely a natural mood lifter and will likely make you feel better about yourself. This may prompt you to get out and spend more time with family and friends which can help as well. It’s hard to get motivated to exercise under normal circumstances, even harder when you’re feeling depressed, but it’s worth the effort.
Although the winter months are lacking in natural sunlight, find it where you can. Go on a brisk winter walk when the sun is gleaming off the snow. The fresh air as well as the Vitamin D filled sunlight will be good for your body and your mind.
Vitamins and natural supplements:
Vitamins and natural supplements such as D, B, Omega 3 Fish Oil, and St John’s Wort are thought to be of benefit to people who suffer from depression. This is due to their mood lifting effects.
Vitamin D, which can be lacking in the winter months because of our limited exposure to the sun, can be particularly useful in dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Food sources such as milk and fish can be rich in Vitamin D. Cod Liver Oil is also a good source of Vitamin D. It is best to get your 25(OH) D level checked to see if you are Vitamin D deficient. If your levels are below 35 ng/mL, you are Vitamin D deficient and should get treatment.
Scientists at the Boston University School of Medicine and McLean Hospital have concluded that depressive disorders are associated with low levels of gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA) in the brain and that practicing yoga may help by raising these levels. GABA can also be helpful when taken in dietary supplement form.
Water is the life blood of the body. Many problems including depression can be linked to dehydration since 85% of our brain tissue is made up of water. Try drinking water each day instead of sodas or caffeinated drinks which can actually have a dehydrating effect. Remember, not all liquids are alike. Drink pure, fresh water, and lots of it.
Researchers Dr. Alfred Lewy and Dr. Robert Sack at the National Institute of Health found that patients suffering from the Winter Blues had Circadian Rhythms that were ‘out of whack.’ Circadian Rhythms are the body clock’s daily signals that control mood and energy levels. They found that using light therapy at certain times of day could correct these Circadian Rhythms and consequently, relieve the symptoms of SAD.
There are several forms of light therapy including 10,000 Lux Full Spectrum, BlueWave, and BrightWave therapies. Light boxes are easy to use and provide the user with a bright light that simulates natural sunlight. They can also be used for jet lag, sleep disorders, and even certain skin conditions.
Remember to check with your doctor before beginning any treatment program to see if it is right for you.
Liddell, Amber “Therapy Tips for Seasonal Affective Disorder” SelfGrowth.com
“Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Vitamin D” Dec 11, 2008 Office of Dietary Supplements National Institutes of Health
Schimelpfening, Nancy “Yoga May Help Depression and Anxiety” May 29, 2007 About.com: Depression
“Water and Depression, Stress and Anxiety” Free Drinking Water.com
“About Light Therapy” Philips Sense and Simplicity lighttherapy.com