Happy New Year to each and every one of you! The beginning of every year marks a great time to set realistic and manageable goals for the year ahead. I encourage you all to make your health a top priority for 2018. It is time to get back on track with your supplement regimens, physical activity and dietary choices. The cold weather has some of us de-motivated and sleeping for more hours than we are used to. It's sad to say, but the weather outside does play a huge role in how we feel inside. Limited exposure to sunlight leads to emotional changes, referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.
SAD follows the seasons. It starts in late fall and usually goes away by early spring. You may be asking yourself what is the cause of this change? Well, the shortening of daylight hours in the winter months causes a shift in our body's normal circadian rhythm. This leads to an increased production of melatonin and cortisol with a decrease in serotonin. Increased melatonin will increase a person’s desire to sleep for longer hours while increased cortisol would cause you to feel more agitated. Decreased serotonin would cause symptoms like low mood, decreased energy, carbohydrate cravings and increased appetite. These symptoms are completely manageable with the right interventions. Do not subject yourself to these feelings in the fall and winter months or ever! Seek HELP when needed!
Alternative interventions for SAD are multi-faceted involving diet and exercise regimens, meditation, light therapy and supplementation. Below, I delve into more details for each of these therapies.
Top 6 Tips To Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder
1. Get as much Vitamin D as you possibly can!
The goal here is to make up for all the lost sunshine during the winter months. Light helps to re-establish the circadian rhythm through making the hormones responsible for telling our bodies when it is time to sleep and when it is time to wake up. Try and take short outdoor walks during the day. Sit near a window when you are at home. Increase the amount of natural light in your home just by keeping the blinds open! If you still feel like Vitamin D is lacking, try taking a vitamin D supplement that can help to replenish your stores.
2. Watch your Diet
The foods we chose to ingest have a significant influence on the manufacturing of hormones that are necessary for optimal brain function. Aim for well-balanced meals through the day. Make sure you are opting for the brightly coloured fruits and vegetables. Low mood and lack of sleep can make your body crave sugar! Make sure you do not succumb to this! You want to make sure you are eating healthy fats like fish, walnuts, soybeans, flax seeds and adequate protein. Your body needs about 0.8g/kg of protein depending on your activity levels. Winter is the perfect time for warming foods like soups and stews.
3. Exercise when you can
Exercise is an extremely powerful tool for boosting serotonin and endorphins. It can help with sleep quantity and quality. Aim for 30 minutes of physical activity 5-6 times a week even if it's as simple as walking your furry animal.
4. Relaxation and Meditation
"I don't have the time" is not a good excuse for not indulging in some alone time. It only takes 5-10 minutes to unwind and withdraw from your external environment. Guided meditations are awesome before bed as they help to gather your thoughts and relax your mind to get a restful sleep. If meditation is not for you, take 5 minutes before bed to just sit and focus on your breathing to help manage stress and enhance positivity.
5. Light Therapy
Light therapy works by mimicking the effects of natural sunlight. Bright light stimulates the retina in the eye, which is connected to the area of the brain responsible for controlling the circadian rhythm. It involves sitting close to a light box 20-30 minutes per day within the first hour of waking in the morning.
6. Natural Health Products
Make sure to talk to your ND and make sure these treatments are right for you.
Written by: Dr. Saira Kassam, ND | 2018
The advice in this article is for informational purposes only. It does not replace the care of a Naturopathic physician.