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The Winter Blues – 10 Tips for Prevention & Treatment
It is estimated that 1 in 5 people in the US experience some symptoms of mild to moderate depression during the late Autumn and Winter months, a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Scientists have recently discovered light sensitive cells in the retina that are not related to vision, but do connect directly with areas of the brain that affect whether you are happy or sad. This is the first time such a specific physical mechanism for SAD has been identified.
The discovery reinforces the usefulness of light boxes for indoor light therapy during the darker seasons of the year. Also, whenever there is sunshine during these winter months, go outside and get some on your skin; this helps with vitamin D production as well.
Obviously, there are many degrees of depression, and seeking professional help if your symptoms are serious or chronic is advisable, but there is also a lot we can do to help ourselves. Here are some simple tips for keeping SAD at bay and lessening mild to moderate depression in general.
If you’d like more detailed information about this important topic then check out the article called An Integrated Approach to Depression on my website HERE.
10 Tips for SAD
1. Keep a positive attitude toward life. Challenges are opportunities to improve your life. Learn to turn negatives into positives. Look up (not down) at life and gather the enthusiasm you can. In most cases, negative self-talk is an option, like what we choose to eat; thus, we can be alert to this mental undermining and let it go, and then attempt to shift to positive words and imagery. It may take some concerted training but it’s worth it. Remember, we are not our mind. It’s more like “My mind is the sky and the clouds are our thoughts; we can just watch them float by.” Mindfulness training and meditation can be helpful as well.
2. Create a regular exercise program that includes stretching, weights, and aerobic activity. This leads to flexibility, strength, endurance and relaxation. Research has shown that exercise improves hormonal balance and helps to relieve depression. In my experience, regular exercise keeps the mood upbeat and the energy for life vital. During the colder months, it’s ideal to have some indoor and recharging exercise. Any gym can work as can classes like yoga or chi-gong and swimming is a great option. It’s ideal to have a varied exercise program that works around the year.
3. Find ways to access and talk about your feelings and frustrations with friends or loved ones. If that is not easily available, or if you are hesitant to “air out” your personal issues, find a compatible counselor. Finding someone you can feel comfortable sharing your deepest feelings, issues, concerns with is a valuable asset. And if you can find someone on your health insurance plan, even better.
4. Eat a wholesome and balanced diet, because having all the right nutrients – vitamins, minerals, amino acids, essential fatty acids, and phytonutrients–supports your mental, physical, and emotional health. We have control over what we buy and put in our mouths, and this for sure affects how we feel. Toxins and food reactions/allergies can cause low moods, anxiety, insomnia and depression. In contrast, a healthy, “right” diet for each of us can keep us feeling good and healthy. “Right’ is based on what feels good, and ultimately, what our body tolerates best. Lots of veggies is a good start, plus quality proteins.
5. Take a regular multivitamin-mineral appropriate to your needs to insure adequate levels of all of your required nutrients. This makes sure we have our cells and tissues getting all they need to create optimal functioning. Of course, a wide-ranged, balanced diet forms the basis of good nutrition.
6. Avoid any regular use of substances that may alter your moods and energy level. This includes sugar, caffeine, alcohol, cannabis and many food additives, such as synthetic food colorings and flavorings, MSG, aspartame, and others. Most people are using stimulants and sedatives to manage their moods and energy, and I refer to this as the “Stimulation-Sedation Syndrome.” I have an online program to address this on my website called “Regain Your Natural Energy.” Check it out. Here’s link to course page
7. Watch out for food reactions that can also affect your mood and energy from such substances as sugar, wheat products, and cow’s milk. Really any food might be causing a reaction or allergy; other common reactions may be from soy, eggs, corn and peanuts. That’s why a simple detox or elimination diet can help us both feel better and then we can figure out what substance is causing what symptoms, or health challenges, as we bring these individual foods back into our diet. My books, The Detox Diet and The False Fat Diet, get into this process in detail, as do my online detox programs.
8. Try natural remedies that are known to help with depression. There is a wide range of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and herbs that can help alleviate depression. Many of them support brain function and specifically serotonin levels. Others support normal hormone balance, such as the thyroid and adrenal glands. Two important ones are St. John’ s Wort (300mg, 3-times daily) or SAMe (200-400mg, 2-times daily). B vitamins and minerals like magnesium can also help and allow for better rest at night, since good sleep can also help people get out of the blues.
9. Try the anti-depressant amino acids if the above don’t work adequately, such as L-tryptophan (500-1,500 mg at night), or its variant 5-HTP (hydroxy-tryptophan, 50-150mg at night). Both of these improve serotonin levels, which helps with sleep and feeling positive. The lower amounts can also be taken in the morning although for some they can cause fatigue. L-tyrosine is another more energizing, anti-depressant amino acid, and 500-1,000 mg can be taken in the morning as well as after lunch. Phenylalanine, another amino acid, has also been shown to improve depression.
10. If all this doesn’t work – or if the depression is severe or chronic – consult with a psychiatrist or a therapist and consider an anti-depressant medication. Another option is to be evaluated by an integrative physician or psychiatrist with in-depth training in vitamin therapy. Chemical and nutrient imbalances in the body, which often cause depression, can be influenced and improved through nutrient therapy. Low thyroid function can also be a factor. However, most people can improve their depression through natural approaches.
Integrative Family Medicine Physician, Author and Educator