Stop the Winter Blues and Seasonal Affective Disorder NOW

You know it’s coming … that time of year when you just feel down, have no energy, and would be perfectly happy Seasonal Affective Disorderhibernating until spring. The winter blues aren’t just in your head, they are a true physical condition referred to as “Seasonal Affective Disorder” (SAD). SAD can affect anyone in cold climates, although senior citizens and children tend to have it less frequently.

Note: Depression is a serious condition. If you experience depression that interferes with your daily life, please seek professional help and do not try to treat yourself. Please discuss any new therapy or supplement with your practitioner before starting. Please also be aware that none of these statements were evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any illness.

Although the exact cause of SAD is unknown, research indicates that the lack of sunshine during the dark days of winter can cause:

  • Decreases in Vitamin D levels in the body: Low Vitamin D levels are known to contribute to depression and lack of energy
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  • Interference with circadian rhythms: Our body is designed to awaken when the sun goes up and to go to sleep when the sun goes down. The short days of winter interfere with these patterns, which appears to decrease the production of Serotonin, a “feel good” hormone.
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  • Reduced Melatonin levels: Decreased sunlight exposure seems to reduce the production of Melatonin in the brain. This can, in turn, lead to depression and sleep problems.
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  • Decreased physical activity: Most people aren’t as active in the winter as they are in the summer. Because exercise increases serotonin levels, a decrease in physical activity can negatively impact mood.

So how do you combat the effects caused by winter’s dark and gloomy days? Any of the following may help:

  • Use of a full-spectrum light bulb: Spending 10-20 minutes per day sitting in front a full-spectrum light bulb can help stimulate the body to produce Vitamin D and other chemicals essential to a good mood. Most health food stores sell full-spectrum light bulbs, or complete lamp sets and floor lamps can be purchased. I like the lamp set sold by Lights of America: http://amzn.to/ou0Q1a.
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  • Take a Vitamin D supplement: The typical recommended dosage of daily Vitamin D during the winter is 2000 IU/day, although levels of 5000-10,000 IU can usually be taken safely. I recommend asking your doctor to check your Vitamin D levels the next time you have blood work done. Although the test results will indicate that anything above 25 is “normal,” most people do not feel well unless their levels are between 50-75. (I give you permission to argue with your doctor on what the optimal levels are if s/he thinks a lower level is acceptable. The 50-75 level is associated with lower inflammation in the body and with lower cancer rates.) Also be aware that taking 2000 IU/day of Vitamin D is known to be MORE effective than a flu shot at preventing winter illnesses, so it’s a win-win! This is my favorite Vitamin D supplement: http://amzn.to/1auAwhF. For more information on Vitamin D, please read: 20 Surprising Facts About Vitamin D.
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  • Don’t be a hermit: It’s important to get out and have FUN during winter months. Although it may be tempting to become a homebody, getting out of the house to have fun is very important.
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  • Exercise: If you don’t like the word “exercise,” then engage in “fun sweaty activity” instead. As referenced above, exercising increases serotonin levels in the brain, which naturally makes you feel better and have a more positive outlook.

Again, please seek professional help if you experience a depression that interferes with your ability to cope or if you begin considering harming yourself.

My passion is helping people improve their health and lifestyle by identifying and correcting systemic imbalances. I have helped thousands of people eliminate their health challenges using a holistic approach. If you are ready to find a new level of wellness, please contact me to schedule a consultation. I will help you identify the cause of health challenges and will then work with you to create a plan to reverse them.

Does SAD affect you? Please share your story and what techniques work for you. We can beat this!

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Dr. Pamela Reilly is a Naturopathic Physician dedicated to helping people improve their health and eliminate symptoms using natural, integrative methods. She has over 25 years of experience and has helped men, women and children improve their health using a holistic, client-centered focus. She sees clients in Indianapolis, does house calls, and also conducts consultations via Skype or telephone. Please feel free to contact her or visit her Consultations page for more information. Dr. Pamela speaks nationwide on a wide variety of health topics and welcomes speaking invitations.

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7 Responses to Stop the Winter Blues and Seasonal Affective Disorder NOW

  1. elizabeth says:

    i combine your exercise and sunlight. My goal is 30mins to an hour every day running outside if possible. i find that helps with _everything_!

  2. Claire says:

    I hugely appreciate your list and will implement your ideas. It is so easy to become sad in this gloomy weather!

  3. […] Bach Flower Remedies/Flower Essences: Dr. Edward Bach first began using flower essences in the 1930′s when he realized that his patients’ emotional state directly affected their ability to heal physically. Through his research, Dr. Bach identified 38 different negative emotional states and developed a flower remedy for each. Bach Flower Remedies are used to address emotional states such as depression, obsessiveness, bitterness, etc. The essences are made by infusing flower petals from specific flowers in brandy. (Non-alcoholic versions are available for children and pets.) The beauty of the flower essences is that they have a very gentle impact and do not interact with prescription medications. (The Bach flower remedies cannot be used with prescription Antibuse due to their alcohol content.)One of the most popular Bach Flower Remedies is Rescue Remedy, commonly used during times of extreme stress. Rescue Remedy is often used in emergencies to help people calm down. It is also known to be highly effective for pets who have separation anxiety or storm fear. (Pet Rescue Remedy is alcohol free and very effective.) I often find the Bach Flower Remedy Gorse to be very helpful when addressing long-term depression. Most practitioners use a specific set of written questions to identify which Bach Flower Remedies may be best for emotional issues and then create a customized blend in mineral water that is taken four times daily. It is very important to work with a trained practitioner when identifying which Bach Flower Remedy is best for specific issues. If you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, please read my post: Stop Seasonal Affective Disorder Now. […]

  4. Anonymous says:

    My SAD season generally begins at the end of August or beginning of September. I start a regimen at that time each year and it's the only thing that helps thrive during the winter:
    1) I cut back on simple carbs (except on Thanksgiving and Christmas days). I've noticed I feel worse if I give into my increased carb craving with simple carbs. I opt for more beans during the SAD season which are a slow release carb. If I'm craving sugar real bad I eat fruit or dried fruit (I use unsulfered dried fruit, the other gives me a headache). I've read studies that say the quick burst of serotonin one gets from eating simple carbs quickly drops leaving a person wanting more and feeling worse, like an addiction, and this has proven true for me through my personal experience.
    2) Exercise is definitely a big help for me, especially hiking, even if it's in the snow. (Of course I bundle up in lots of warm clothes). Last year I bought a small indoor trampoline which is a lot of fun and I can use while I'm watching tv. I also use a treadmill at the gym and listen to music or read while walking then I reward myself with pool and sauna time. Yoga helps a lot, too.
    3) In addition to a daily multi-vitamin, I take St. John's Wort and vitamin B-50 complex every day. This year I've also add a vitamin D although I'm not going to take more than 1000mg until I get my vitamin D tested as I have a lot of fat cells and vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin.
    4) I use full spectrum, >5000 kelvin light bulbs in key areas of my house like my master bath. I'm in there every morning for about a half hour. Plus in the deepest part of winter I also use one of those light bulbs in a spotlight lamp which I direct on to myself when I sit and read at night. I usually turn the heat up a little, put on a tank top and let it hit my back and shoulders.

  5. Pamela Reilly, Naturopath, CNHP, CNC, CPH says:

    Sounds like she's doing all the right things! Good for her!! Thanks for commenting!

  6. Randy Clark says:

    My wife manages SAD through use of a Go light daily (first thing every morning), vitamin supplements, and getting out and participating in winter activities. Thanks for the exercise tip – it makes sense as well.

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