By Dr. Karen Bender
How are you feeling with the latest snow we just had? While it has been fun watching my new puppy bound through the powder that is as deep as she is tall, there is a part of me that is ready for it to be spring already. With the excitement of the holidays over, the short cold days of winter can seem to drag on, leaving many feeling down.
It is not uncommon for some people to get the “winter blues” this time of year but if you find yourself experiencing the following symptoms only in the winter months:
- Carbohydrate cravings and weight gain
- Sleeping more or less
- Extreme fatigue
- Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Loss of interest in usual activities, including withdrawing from social activities
- Thoughts of death or suicide
You may be experiencing a type of depression known as Seasonal Affect Disorder (SAD). The exact cause of SAD is not known, but it is theorized that the lack of sunlight in the winter months may play a role. This leaves people who live further North with overcast climates such as the Northeast, more susceptible to SAD. The lack of sunlight of Northeastern winters may lead to hormone and neurotransmitter imbalances.
Luckily, there are some natural things you can start doing today to regain the energy, vitality, optimism, and hopefulness of spring. You do not have to wait for the snow to melt and the robins to start singing to feel good again.
Seasonal Affect Disorder Natural Treatments:
Vitamin D supplementation: Low sunlight exposure can lead to vitamin D deficiency. Supplementation may improve symptoms of SAD because vitamin D supports the mood enhancing neurotransmitter serotonin. Vitamin D levels should be monitored to determine appropriate dose and to prevent levels from getting too high.
Increase exposure to sunlight: Spend time exercising outside or in your home or office where there is more natural sunlight. Expose your face to sunlight whenever possible.
Light/phototherapy: There are specialized light therapy lamps with white fluorescent light tubes covered with a plastic screen to block ultraviolet rays. To be effective, intensity of light emitted should be 10,000 lux. Since this is about 20 times brighter than normal light, do not look directly into the lamp. Rather place it 2-3 feet away from you in the morning while you do other activities like eat breakfast or read. For best results use for 15-30 minutes daily throughout the winter. Use in the morning to prevent possible sleep disturbances.
I know that when I moved from sunny Southern Arizona to the notoriously overcast Seattle, I felt a difference in how I felt during the long dark winter months. It took me awhile to finally get a phototherapy lamp and get my vitamin D levels checked and appropriately supplemented, but once I did, I felt better. I will not lie to you and say I don’t still look forward to the warmer sunnier months, but with these simple treatments, it is easier to see the light on even the darkest of winter days.
If you are feeling the weight of the winter, check out this article for additional tips on natural ways to support your mental health. Or to discuss additional ways to get you feeling your best regardless of the weather, call Whole Health Wellness Center to make an appointment today.