Many people slip into symptoms of depression and become affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) at the onset of fall and winter.
While some of us are rotating wardrobes, bringing out coats and boots, and looking to eat warm comforting foods, the change in seasons can be far more complicated for others. The transition from long, sunny summer days to the cooler, darker weather of fall and winter can wreak havoc on mental and emotional health.
Seasonal affective disorder isn’t just something that people experience in February, during the depths of cold, dark winter days. As the light begins to change in the fall and the days get shorter, many people already start to feel SAD setting in.
Treatment For Seasonal Affective Disorder
While seasonal affective disorder symptoms typically begin to lift in the spring as the nicer weather comes back, there is no reason for anyone to struggle through winter. If you feel like you are affected by seasonal mood shifts you may want to consider taking steps to support yourself starting in the early fall and continuing throughout the entire winter.
Some people choose to get an emotional boost from antidepressants, but since those typically cause side effects, you may want to investigate some natural therapies for seasonal affective disorder.
As with most things natural and alternative, there is rarely a one size fits all approach that will work for everyone. You may need to spend some time experimenting with the combination of strategies for seasonal affective disorder to find what works best for you, but luckily there are a number of options to choose from.
Support Your Seasonal Affective Disorder
Eating a whole foods based diet, rich in plants (especially vegetables) and high-quality protein sources is a great starting point, but there are some nutritional strategies that are especially helpful in managing mood disorders.
Avoid self-medicating with carbohydrates
When people are feeling depressed they are more likely to reach for simple carbohydrates in the form of junk food because it temporarily increases the release of serotonin in the brain, a feel good neurotransmitter.
The trouble is this not only often leads to weight gain, but it sends your blood sugar on a roller coaster ride, and impaired blood glucose is linked to mood disorders.
Eat foods rich in tyrosine and tryptophan
Tryptophan is an amino acid that is an important factor in the creation of serotonin in the body. Most people think of turkey as being high in tryptophan, which it is, but there are many other foods that are excellent sources of tryptophan as well.
Tyrosine and tryptophan will help increase the body’s production of serotonin (feel good neurotransmitter), dopamine (involved with the pleasure centre of the brain), and melatonin (helps regulate your sleep cycle).
Focus on foods like turkey, chicken, eggs, meats, nuts (especially almonds), shrimp, cremini mushrooms, spinach, salmon, asparagus, avocados, bananas, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds.
Limit caffeine, alcohol, and sugar
When people are tired, feeling mentally low and in need of a boost this is the common coping trifecta.
The problem is, caffeine not only gives you a false boost (by stimulating the central nervous system), it can severely affect sleep quality. Alcohol consumption can also affect sleep quality though many people would claim that it helps them relax and fall asleep more easily.
Sugar may not directly affect your ability to sleep though it can affect blood sugar regulation, which can lead to sleep-related issues.
Caffeine, alcohol, and sugar can affect your body negatively in other ways that can impact mood, but I’m focusing on sleep because NOBODY feels good mentally when they’re not sleeping well, and if you’re depressed or anxious it’s even worse.
There are many herbs, vitamins, minerals, and homeopathic remedies that can help with mood disorders, but it’s best to work with an experienced practitioner (holistic nutritionist or naturopath) to find out which are right for you. Having said that, there are a few basic supplements that almost anyone can use as a foundation for good mental health.
Don’t wait until you’re struggling – start changing your supplement routine now to support your brain later.
Omega 3 – High EPA
Essential fatty acids cannot be manufactured by the body, and therefore, must be obtained through diet and supplementation.
Omega-3 fatty acids are important for cardiovascular health and reducing inflammation, but they also play a role in good mental health. EPA, one component of Omega-3 fats, has been shown through research to help improve mental outlook and help with mood regulation.
Although you can obtain Omega-3 fats through diet (cold water fish, flax, walnuts, chia seeds are all good sources), it’s not easy to take in enough EPA without supplementation.
Look for a formulation that is higher in EPA than DHA, most often found labeled “high potency” or “extra strength”.
B complex is actually 8 water soluble vitamins that include thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, folic acid, biotin, and vitamin B12. It is best to supplement these vitamins as a complex, not individually as they work together in the body.
The B vitamins are necessary for many metabolic functions, but a large number of them are needed for the production of neurotransmitters and are necessary for a healthy nervous system and brain.
Deficiencies are often found in people suffering from mood disorders and may contribute to depression.
Vitamin D intake is important for many areas of good health but more recent studies have been exploring the impact of Vitamin D levels on mental health.
While not all the mechanisms are clear, it would seem that in many cases supplementing with Vitamin D has the potential to improve depression scores in those who are suffering.
Since we get Vitamin D from exposure to sunlight in the summer months, and sun exposure is significantly decreased in winter, those who struggle with SAD should definitely consider supplementing with Vitamin D throughout the fall and winter as it is difficult to obtain through diet alone.
While probiotics do not reside in the brain and, therefore, can’t offer any direct effect on mental health and mood regulation, their ability to improve digestive health, aid in the production of B vitamins, and create a terrain conducive to the production of serotonin (some of which is produced in the digestive tract) makes them an important component of good mental health.
Treating Seasonal Affective Disorder With Lifestyle Changes
After addressing nutrition and supplementation, there are a number of lifestyle strategies that you can incorporate to help decrease your seasonal affective disorder symptoms and support your brain:
- Light therapy box – mimics outdoor light, which researchers believe can support positive chemical changes in the brain and lift your mood. There are readily available online and are usually used for at least 30 minutes a day.
- Get outside as much as possible during daylight hours.
- Keep blinds open and welcome extra light into your home or office.
- Exercise – the endorphins released during exercise elevate mood for hours, long after you are finished exercising.
- Massage therapy
- Essential oils
If your mood really dips in the cooler months, remember, there’s no shame in admitting to people that you need help and support. Work with a therapist, talk to your friends and family, doctor, alternative practitioners, and know that you’re not alone.
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