Do you struggle with the winter blues, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD? For many of my patients, the change of season brings an unwelcome change to their moods. This form of depression occurs mostly in the shorter, darker days of fall and winter, but can also occur in summer. Most conventional practitioners prescribe antidepressants, which can have significant side effects and be hard to stop without undergoing many adverse effects. Despite what these practitioners and the pharmaceutical companies would like you to think, you can end seasonal affective disorder.
The Underlying Cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder
Like most depressive disorders, seasonal affective disorder occurs because of a chemical imbalance in the brain. As the weather shifts with the season, our bodies can become deficient in essential nutrients like Vitamin D. The delicate balance of hormones like serotonin and melatonin can be affected by the change in sunlight. Though our days grow shorter, our schedules do not, and the increase in obligations as the holiday season rolls around can leave us exhausted.
Signs You May Be Suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder
Just like major, or conventional, depression, there are many signs that hint you may be suffering from SAD. The following are just a few of the many symptoms commonly associated with seasonal affective disorder:
- Loss of, or great increase in, appetite
- Body aches
- Low sex drive
- Suicidal thoughts
Antidepressants including SSRIs such as Zoloft and Prozac, and stimulants like Ritalin are often prescribed to try to reset the brain’s chemical balance. However, these medications come with significant side-effects, and cannot be stopped without a doctor-supervised process of weaning off each one. These side effects range from insomnia and nausea to diarrhea and lowered sex drive. Because of the complications of stopping medication, those treated for SAD often resort to taking these medications long-term.
How to End Seasonal Affective Disorder for Good
Luckily, functional medicine offers a much better (and more permanent) solution! This involves testing to determine the cause of your depression. Hormonal imbalances, vitamin deficiencies, and thyroid disorders can all cause periods of depression. While conventional practitioners would use a blanket prescription drug to mask your symptoms, functional medicine believes that the only effective solution is the one that is made exclusively for you. By discovering the root cause of your depression, we can resolve the problem at its source.
Natural Treatments You Can Try TODAY
While nothing takes the place of solving your health issues with results-based functional medicine, there are many natural treatments that we employ to help you feel better immediately. The following is a list of some of my favorite natural remedies. Remember to check in with your practitioner before beginning any new treatment in order to ensure the remedy you choose is the most effective for you.
SAD occurs when the change in sunlight effects our hormones. However, there are artificial sources of light that replicate the sun’s natural rays. Exposure to these light boxes for 15 to 30 minutes each day can decrease the effects of SAD significantly. Much like sun exposure, these light boxes emit UV rays, so be sure to choose a light box that is recommended by your practitioner.
Skip the Sugar
As Serotonin levels decrease, cravings for carbohydrates and sugary snacks increase. Many try to self-soothe by indulging in holiday treats. This can cause a cascade of problems, as your blood sugar spikes, inflammation increases, and your overall immunity is lowered. Instead of grabbing the carton of eggnog, opt for high protein snacks like roasted almonds. You’ll feel more satisfied, have greater energy, and won’t suffer the consequences of that afternoon binge.
While the cooler weather may keep you indoors, the shift of season is no reason to ditch your exercise routine. If your favorite activities are outside, adapt an indoor practice. Take up yoga or free weights, race your kids around the hallway, or seek out a new bodyweight routine. By staying active, you keep a steady supply of endorphins running through your system. You also strengthen muscles, including your heart.
Boost Your Vitamin Intake
One of the first things I test for in my patients is Vitamin D level. This essential vitamin is produced when our skin is exposed to the sun’s UV rays. Deficiencies are extremely common, and can cause allergies, depression, osteoporosis, and even certain cancers! This is another reason why functional medicine is the best investment for your health. If you need additional Vitamin D, I will help you choose the best supplement.
Soak Up the Sun (When You Can)
On days when the sun is shining, go for a short walk around the block. Take advantage of the break in cool weather. Keep your curtains open to benefit from as much natural light as possible. While winter may feel like it lasts forever, in a few short months, you’ll wish for a break from the endless summer!
Like all mood disorders, seasonal affective disorder can be tough to endure alone. If you feel you’re suffering from the winter blues, please don’t hesitate to reach out! I offer a free consultation, and can help you develop a plan to achieve your best health and banish depression for good.
Rich Jacobs is a Board Certified Integrative and Functional Nutrition Practitioner who specializes in resolving gut, insomnia, low libido, fatigue and fat issues. He uses a holistic approach and functional lab work to identify root causes such as hormone imbalances or gut pathogens that could be impacting your health.