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Bye-Bye Winter Blahs

Fight Seasonal Affective Disorder

Q:

I suffer from low mood and lack of motivation during the fall and winter months and would like some advice on how to improve this.
Sarah, Toronto

 

A:

Weather can be a culprit for low moods and most individuals feel better when the days are longer and there are ample hours of sunshine to lift our spirits. While weather affects many people to some degree, certain individuals are vulnerable to a type of depression that follows a seasonal pattern. “Seasonal Affective Disorder” or SAD  begins with the shortening of days in late autumn, and lasts until spring. Our biological clock, which regulates our daily rhythms, responds to seasonal changes and alters the neurotransmitters in our body that regulate sleep, mood and appetite. During the long, dark, cold days of winter we spend less time being active outdoors and often minimize our social contact with others.

While 1/3 of Canadians report experiencing “the winter blues”, the 2-3% of the population experiencing SAD exhibit more severe symptoms such as a lack of motivation and interest in daily activities, moodiness, and various sleep disturbances. Other symptoms include nervousness, irritability, exhaustion, gloominess, and despair along with changes in appetite and weight and cravings for sweet or starchy foods. Those with severe symptoms should seek the advice of a qualified practitioner but for others simple dietary and lifestyle changes, coupled with natural remedies, can have dramatic results.

 

1. Get Outside

Maximize your exposure to sunlight – make it a habit to take a noon-hour walk, leave curtains open, and sit by a window. Light therapy used for 20 minutes twice a day can help to lift your mood.

2. Get Moving

Exercise is the hardest but most important thing to do if you suffer from the winter blues. It relieves stress, increases energy and boosts the production of dopamine, serotonin, and adrenaline, increasing both your mental and physical well-being. Try to incorporate activity into your schedule before SAD symptoms take hold.

3. Go Herbal

Choose herbal remedies to balance neurotransmitters and relax the nervous system. While there are many natural remedies to choose from, the unique triple combination of St. John’s Wort, Passionflower and Valerian has been shown to relieve stress, improve sleep, and manage depression and anxiety. A 2011 study using brain imaging found this combination to exert similar calming effects to antidepressants without the sedative side-effects.

St. John’s Wort

Traditionally used to treat depression and improve mood, clinical studies now validate that this herb can raise levels of serotonin (your feel-good hormone) and the calming neurotransmitter, GABA. St. John’s Wort also reduces cortisol, our stress hormone, improving the response of our nervous system to stress.

Passionflower

This fast-acting, relaxing herb calms the nervous system, soothes irritability and helps to alleviate anxiety. Passionflower works synergistically with St. John’s Wort, enhancing its effectiveness.

Valerian

With a long history of use in the treatment of sleep disorders and anxiety, this herb has a positive effect on the neurotransmitter GABA, exerting a calming, anxiolytic effect. Valerian helps to manage sleep disturbances such as difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep and alleviates daytime restlessness and nervousness.

 

 

Dr. Suzanna Ivanovics, ND operates a naturopathic practice in downtown Toronto and is a consultant at The Big Carrot.