Building Your Winter Blues Toolbox
Valeria Manning, ND
Seasonal Affective Disorder, better known as S.A.D., affects approximately 3-6% of the general population. The incidence is higher in northern latitudes and among women of reproductive age. Typical presentations of S.A.D. overlap significantly with major depressive disorder, however S.A.D. occurs in a more cyclical nature during the autumn and winter months.
Naturopathic medicine boasts a variety of tools to help treat and even prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder. The following is a sampling of these treatments.
Please keep in mind that the best resource and safest option for someone experiencing S.A.D. is a thorough evaluation by a licensed physician.
Lab Testing- finding the cause
Depressed mood, fatigue and weight gain could be symptoms of iron deficiency, hypothyroidism, hormone dysregulation and various other medical conditions. Ask your doctor to rule out metabolic and hormonal causes of your symptoms before you implement ideas in this article. Naturopathic physicians excel in evaluating a person’s whole-body health, taking into account nutrition, lifestyle, family history and environmental influences. You may also want to test your neurotransmitter levels (e.g. serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine) to more accurately identify potential causes of your symptoms.
Full-spectrum light therapy is a promising treatment for S.A.D. The recommended administration of this therapy is 20-30 minutes of direct exposure to 10,000 LUX of full-spectrum light, ideally in the morning within an hour of waking. You may experience initial mild side effects of headache, eye strain or agitation. If this occurs, point the light slightly away from your face so your body can slowly adjust to the exposure. Full spectrum light bulbs can be purchased at your local hardware store or online. Full spectrum lamps or light boxes can be more expensive but can easily be found online. Remember that the necessary brightness is 10,000 LUX!
Exercise is an often-overlooked treatment for depression, which is unfortunate since it is a powerful tool for treating depression. The goal is 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, 5 days per week. Work your way up to this amount slowly and don’t feel guilty if you don’t make it to 150 minutes weekly. Start by committing 5 minutes per day, then increase to 10, 15, 20, etc. Online videos are a phenomenal and fun way to find virtually any kind of guided exercise- yoga, dancing, stretching, Pilates, weights or cardio. A gym membership is also a great option if financially possible.
Counseling or Talk Therapy
Confiding in a close friend, family member or colleague can help us feel less lonely and isolated during the winter months. We may feel vulnerable talking about our feelings to others, however there is a high probability that our neighbors, friends and coworkers feel the same blues we do! Strongly consider professional help, as a counselor or therapist could serve as a powerful ally during dark moments and can provide tools and strategies for enduring the winter blues.
Botanical and Nutritional Support
A whole foods diet rich in vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats can help our bodies build and metabolize neurotransmitters, which are key for optimal brain function. People who live in the Pacific Northwest are often deficient in Vitamin D due to lack of sunshine; supplementation can help correct that deficiency. Other helpful supplements include methylfolate, SAMe and vitamin B12. Herbs that can help treat S.A.D. include rhodiola, ashwagandha, St John’s wort, passionflower and lemon balm. Always check with your doctor before initiating herbal therapy as it can interfere with other medications.
A multifaceted, well-informed treatment plan can make the dark wintry days more bearable. Contact your doctor today to determine which course of action is right for you.
And remember, this too shall pass.
Dr. Val Manning is a naturopathic physician and resident doctor at A Woman’s Time. She has deep respect for the complex nature of the mind- how it can fluctuate throughout the day/month/year. She believes that a sturdy mental foundation can foster resiliency during difficult times.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder. Am Fam Physician.2012 Dec 1;86(11):1037-1041.
- www.mayoclinic.org “Seasonal Affective Disorder Treatment: choosing a light therapy box”
- Image www.pcdblog.com