In the midst of the post-holiday slump, you may be feeling the effects of the winter blues. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a common seasonal depression triggered by shorter and darker days, affects about 6% of the U.S. population, according to Norman E. Rosenthal, MD, National Institutes of Mental Health (NIH), especially those of us living in colder climates. (It is also four times more common in women than in men.) Another 14% of the U.S. population experiences a lesser form of seasonal mood changes, known as winter blues. Keep reading to find out 3 helpful ways to cope with SAD.
Do You Have SAD?
People with SAD may experience mood changes, sleepiness, low energy levels, cravings for starches and sweets, and weight gain. According to NIH, people with SAD may also:
- Have trouble regulating one of the key neurotransmitters involved in mood, serotonin.
- Overproduce the hormone melatonin, which regulates sleep.
- Produce less vitamin D.
3 Potential Treatment Options for SAD
Fortunately, SAD is considered a diagnosable disorder, with treatment ranging from light therapy to psychotherapy to dietary supplements.
01. Light Therapy
According to Rosenthal, up to 80% of people who suffer with SAD benefit from light therapy. This is when people sit or work near a light therapy box. The box typically has white fluorescent lights carefully hidden behind a 1 ft x 1.5 ft plastic diffusing screen to filter out ultraviolet rays.
Most people need between 30 and 90 minutes of light therapy per day, Rosenthal says. Most people respond to light therapy within 2 to 4 days of initiating treatment.
The Mayo Clinic recommends that people use a 10,000-lux light box at a distance of about 16 to 24 inches (41 to 61 centimeters) from your face. Just be careful not to stare directly into the light, as this could potentially damage your eyes.
Another option is to use a sunrise alarm clock or a wake up light, which works by automatically waking you up gradually by getting brighter to simulate a sunrise.
Light therapy is also used for sleep disorders, jet lag, and depression.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is type of psychotherapy used to help patients with SAD. The idea is to teach the person easy, fun activities, such as these cold weather workouts, that will aid them in getting through the dreary winter months. (Medication such as antidepressants is another option, but if you prefer natural ways to cope with SAD, keep reading.)
Other active winter activities to try, according to the American Heart Association:
- Brisk walking or hiking
- Jogging or running
- Raking leaves
- Shoveling snow
- Ice skating
- Cross-country skiing
03. Natural Supplements for SAD
The best nutritional supplement for SAD is vitamin D, an essential nutrient for bone health, immunity, and cellular health. When you have a vitamin D deficiency, it’s usually because of insufficient exposure to sunlight. According to WebMD, the recommended form of vitamin D is vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol. This is the natural form of vitamin D that your body makes from sunlight.
Some people have found taking vitamin D supplements as effective as light therapy. If you’d like to try it for yourself, Source Naturals is a great natural option. The brand offers several different types of vitamin D3, including liquid drops, capsules, tablets, and melt-away tablets.
St. John’s Wort
Another natural option to help cope with SAD is to supplement with St. John’s Wort, a flowering plant that has been shown to be effective for depressive symptoms caused by low levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine, according to Psychology Today.
Shop for St. John’s Wort from trusted brands such as Standard Process, a professional brand, which requires product approval to make an online purchase. (Log into NHC.com, and call 1-800-673-1245 for a no-cost consultation.) St. John’s Wort 1.8g from Standard Process is an herbal supplement in tablet form designed to support healthy mood and emotional balance. The herb is also available in liquid form or capsules. Or try St. John’s Wort 900 tablets from Terry Naturally. (You don’t need a consultation to buy Terry Naturally products.)
However, keep in mind that combining St. John’s wort with medications (particularly SSRIs) or antidepressants could be potentially dangerous to your health, so always consult with your health care provider first before taking new supplements. Also don’t use these supplements if you’re pregnant.
5-HTP is an amino acid that produces serotonin, a chemical messenger that helps prevent depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, weight gain and other health problems. Taking 5-HTP supplements may help balance serotonin levels to maintain a steady mood.
Try 5 HTP 50 mg by Integrative Therapeutics, a supplement that provides nutritional support for normal sleep and mood and also supports natural weight management. Also try 5-HTP 50 Mg enteric coated tablets for easy digestion from Nature’s Way.
What natural ways will you use to help cope with SAD? Let us know in the comments below!