by Marc Richute
Seasonal affective disorder is a condition that can affect an individual’s mood, sleep, diet, energy, relationships, and work. SAD typically occurs during the fall/winter months in northern regions when the daylight hours are shorter. Treatment can come from outside professional help, or from within the individual themselves. I found natural solutions worked best for me.
I allowed SAD to consume my well-being for many years. Ashamed and naive at the time, I was not aware that millions of Americans experienced this sensation. The first sign of my SAD began with the early sunsets in late September. The second wave was the bizarre daylight saving time change in November. It felt like Mother Nature came and stole that hour from me (it still does). Finally, when the snow blanketed the ground that’s when it really set in. I have always enjoyed walking and feeling little separation between the dirt and my feet. The snow-covered ground took that away from me and made it more difficult to get around. Okay, so the last part may be a tad dramatic, but here in New England we get a lot of snow.
After years of letting the winter doldrums get the better of me, I needed a strategy. Here are some ideas that have worked for me:
Keep active: Winter does not have to feel stressful. Shoveling your driveway, digging your car out, and possibly helping a neighbor shovel should keep you active for a few hours after it snows. Additionally, you could bring out your inner child by building a snowman, or something that resembles a snowman. It also helps to keep moving; wander your neighborhood in boots, snowshoes, cross-country skis, or other winter gear. It may look odd, but this helps maximize your amount of sun exposure for some natural vitamin D.
Stay healthy: Winter is cold and flu season. Your immune system needs to be on high alert for viral intrusions. It’s so disheartening to experience SAD and also have to stay in bed sick for a week. To combat this, have lots of nourishing herbs and hot tea blends ready; stinging nettles, red clover, and linden are a good start. Also, incorporate herbs and spices into your meals. A few of my favorites are: garlic, rosemary, ginger, and cinnamon. Garlic has been reported to lower cholesterol and blood sugar. Rosemary, ginger, and cinnamon are great stimulants for your heart. These should keep you going; especially if you skip your morning coffee.
Strain your brain: Keeping your body active is a must. Yet, it is also important to keep your mind sharp during the winter months. Catch up on the latest novel, start a project, begin a difficult hobby, learn to play an instrument, join another social meeting group, and associate with more people. Your brain will thank you for the much needed invigorating attention.
Abstain from too much alcohol: Grabbing the bottle may seem like a great idea in the winter, however, alcohol is a depressant. If you’re feeling down and then reach for a depressant you may end up feeling worse the next day. If you do drink excessively, be aware of the consequences. Better yet, hoist a hot tea.
Vacation: If you can coordinate with your job and wallet, take a trip somewhere sunny and warm. A long weekend may be all you need. If an extended weekend does not seem like enough time, take a week or two. A good boost of sun energy in early January may be enough momentum you need to cruise into spring. Some people have tried light therapy boxes to mimic the outdoor light (this is when you acquire brighter light than your indoor lights from a special light box). I have not tried this method so I can’t personally comment on its success.
Seasonal affective disorder is not an insurmountable obstacle. I have stated a few things that worked for me, but the true way to win your own battle is to understand how and why you feel the way you do during the winter months. I strongly encourage you to challenge and surprise yourself by staying active, stimulating your mind, taking time off, and monitoring your health. Before you know it spring will be here. You can begin to enjoy the increasing amount of sunlight and begin foraging for new herbs and flowers. The happy news about your SAD is that you potentially identify the causes of your hindrance and discover techniques to manage it. Your next winter should be awesome!