Do you have the winter blahs?

For many, Happy New Year turns to SAD in the weeks that fol­low. January can be an extremely depress­ing month; either fin­ances are tight due to the hol­i­day sea­son or our waist­bands are tight due to over-eat­ing. You may also be sick and tired of being inside, try­ing to stay out of the cold.

SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder does not look much dif­fer­ent than depres­sion, but occurs in the winter months when we lose access to sun­light. Heading south or hid­ing until spring aren’t your only options.

St. John’s Wort

Take a look at the fol­low­ing list to see if you might be affected with SAD:

  • You have felt low for two win­ters in a row
  • Your appet­ite has increased, and you are gain­ing weight
  • You are crav­ing sweets or car­bo­hydrates, even more than usual
  • You feel drained and more tired than you think you should, even when get­ting more than your aver­age amount of sleep
  • You feel irrit­able, anxious or hopeless
  • You don’t feel like social­iz­ing with your friends or going out
  • You are hav­ing dif­fi­culty concentrating

In Canada, it’s estim­ated that 15% of our pop­u­la­tion exper­i­ences SAD each year. The symp­toms are often worse in women because changes in our hor­mone cycles make us more vul­ner­able to mood changes.

Tips to cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder

  1. Get out­side. Without the right amount of sun­light expos­ure, we nat­ur­ally more more sleepy because our brain makes more melaton­in, the hor­mone that allows us to sleep. More sun­light = less melaton­in = more energy. Also, sun­light on our skin pro­duces Vitamin D which is a mood boost­er and import­ant for a strong immune sys­tem. Take a look at my pre­vi­ous post on SAD and Vitamin D if you want to learn more.
  2. Exercise. Increasing blood flow and cir­cu­la­tion through exer­cise releases endorphins, which cre­ate a “feel-good” sen­sa­tion in your body. If the idea of spend­ing a long time out­side walk­ing in the cold does­n’t appeal to you, join a class or try to estab­lish a buddy sys­tem with a friend to get moving.
  3. Eat reg­u­lar meals with high­er pro­tein con­tent. Protein will sta­bil­ize blood sug­ar and keep you feel­ing full, so if you do crave sweeter foods, be sure to have them with a hand­ful of nuts or some meat or veg­gie pro­tein (like hummous and crack­ers, tzatziki and veg­gies, fruit and cheese) so that you do not add to the cycle of cravings.
  4. Establish human con­tact. This is a time you may need to push to main­tain your con­nec­tions because you feel so leth­ar­gic and grumpy, but see­ing close friends and fam­ily who know you are feel­ing low may help you to remem­ber that you’re not alone. Schedule them so you can­’t bail out.

Extra SAD support for the body and mind

It’s true that some­times being out­side and get­ting exer­cise may not be enough. For some, SAD can be very oppress­ive and the depres­sion alone is crip­pling. If you are not tak­ing anti-depress­ant med­ic­a­tion, the fol­low­ing nat­ur­al sup­ports for depres­sion may be worth con­sid­er­ing with a professional:

  1. St. John’s wort or Hypericum per­forat­um is a herb known for its abil­ity to sup­port depres­sion. A com­bin­a­tion of St. John’s wort, Passionflower (a herb that sup­ports anxi­ety), and Valerian com­bined in a for­mu­la­tion called Neurapas has excel­lent clin­ic­al and research sup­port for depres­sion; it has sim­il­ar effic­acy to anti­de­press­ants like SSRI’s (select­ive sero­ton­in reup­take inhib­it­ors) in its abil­ity to sta­bil­ize the brain in mild-mod­er­ate depres­sion with very low side-effects.
  2. 5HTP or 5‑hydroxytryptophan is chem­ic­al involved in pro­du­cing sero­ton­in, which is a chem­ic­al linked to feel­ings of hap­pi­ness. You can take this in sup­ple­ment­al form, such as Happy Sense to boost your own pro­duc­tion of serotonin.
  3. L‑tyrosine is an amino acid (we need them to make pro­tein) that is used by the body to make more neur­o­trans­mit­ters, like dopam­ine, that can sta­bil­ize and improve mood in SAD.
  4. Often Vitamin D defi­ciency is a cause of SAD. If test­ing shows you’re defi­cient, 2000 – 3000 IU doses could be needed to bring your levels back to normal.
  5. As with all mood dis­orders, ther­apy or coun­sel­ing should be included as part of your treat­ment. Talking out your blues and hav­ing strategies to accept and deal with your feel­ings are key to get­ting through the next few months.

Above all, try to take the good moments when you can and remem­ber your feel­ings are tem­por­ary and will pass! With a good sup­port sys­tem and some tools above, you should be able to get through to the spring feel­ing stronger.

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