Got the Winter Blues?
By Dr. Carol Morley, ND
SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, may be quite common here in Canada, but that doesn’t mean you have to endure and struggle. Mental health is important — let’s talk about it and let’s peel apart some of the layers of the ‘Winter Blues’.
SAD typically occurs in the winter months and shows up as what are commonly associated with symptoms of depression. It is often treated with pharmaceutical anti-depressants but as a Naturopathic Doctor, I always take a step back, look at the person’s symptoms and the underlying bio-chemical considerations, and explore all the dynamic factors at play.
What are some of the causes of SAD? And why does it most commonly occur in the winter months?
sub-optimal Vitamin D is a common cause
with decreased hours of sunlight, we produce less serotonin (happy mood neurotransmitter!)
lack of exercise
‘winter hibernation’ may leave us with less community or social joy
What are the symptoms?
Fatigue or low energy
Loss of joy and sense of fulfillment
Trouble with sleep
Changes in appetite or weight
Craving carbohydrate-rich foods
Loss of purpose
Drink enough water - our brains are 70% water. It sounds simple but hydration can have a profound effect on our messaging system in our brain. Start your day with a BIG glass of water and carry a water bottle with you throughout the day. Set an alarm to remind yourself to drink water or make a checklist or a game out of it.
Get enough protein. Foods like salmon, cashews, eggs, turkey, and seeds are all high in l-tryptophan, a precursor to making serotonin! Protein balances blood sugar, which keeps energy levels more stable throughout the day.
Omega 3’s - these powerhouse essential fatty acids nourish the brain. Fish, walnuts, flaxseed, chia seeds, and of course there is supplementation that we can chat about :) Our brains are mostly fat so we need to feed it to optimize our brain function and increase serotonin and dopamine levels.
Vitamin D3 - most people are deficient here in Canada. It is crucial for mood. Get your levels measured and ask one of our NDs about optimal supplementation.
Herbal teas like chamomile, passionflower, and oat are wonderful at calming the mind. Try having a cup of tea as part of an evening ritual.
Meditation or Mindfulness - Starting the day with a 5 minute grounding exercise like deep breathing or some downward dogs/sun salutations may set your day up for success.
Exercise - you just have to move. Even if it is 15 minutes a day, you have to move your body to get those endorphins (feel good hormones!) moving! Three times a week has been shown to decrease symptoms of depression
Challenge winter hibernation - get out more often. Talk to people, join a club or learn a new language - anything to engage and promote joy in your life!
Of course if these are all things you are consistently doing and are still struggling, Naturopathic Medicine offers many herbs and other treatments that may help you with your winter blues!
Melatonin has been studied extensively for sleep disorders including insomnia, jet lag and even dysmenorrhea (painful periods). This natural rhythm is so important to ensure quality sleep and proper sleep patterns.