It’s May and Spring is definitely here!
As the days grow longer, warmer weather soon follows. It can mean anything from swimming more often to going outdoors for the first time in months, depending on the climate you live in.
But what if you don’t feel any brighter?
What if it all feels too much - even as your kids go back to school after the winter break, you’re still overwhelmed? Perhaps longer days aren’t motivating you to get out of bed earlier, or even with the extra time, you still don’t get things done.
In this case, you may have the winter blues, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD has the same low mood, loss of interest, and changes in appetite as other forms of depression. However, the difference is that you only experience it in the cooler months, as the days are shorter, and going outside just isn’t as pleasant.
Anyone of any age can develop SAD. The good news is that there are many things we can do to feel better at any time of the year, just like other forms of depression.
It’s important to remember that you haven’t failed on any level if you develop SAD each year. Symptoms such as depression are often signals from your body and mind that your environment isn’t the most conducive to your overall health. Just like pain, it’s a message that something isn’t right and requires correction.
For many mothers I’ve worked with, their depressive symptoms may be more like an overactive smoke alarm that responds a little (or a lot) too readily. With naturopathic treatment for SAD and other depressive disorders, you don’t have to settle for turning off the smoke alarm. Instead, we get to address what is causing them in the first place.
Previously, I discussed the winter blues, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and how it can affect your kids. Moms, unfortunately, are not spared from SAD, as it can develop in anyone at any age. SAD can be associated with other mental health issues such as depression or anxiety, and genetic predisposition can put you at a higher risk of the condition.
What SAD Is And Isn’t
SAD resembles “regular” clinical depression, except it comes and goes with winter. It is more than just feeling sad, as a severely low mood, lack of interest in things you’d normally enjoy, and changes to appetite or sleeping characterize depressive disorders.
If you have ADHD and feel understimulated by the lack of sunlight and fewer things to do outside, this is not SAD if you’re still able to enjoy what you can do. Medication for ADHD can affect your appetite and sleeping patterns too, so if you take these and increase your dose during winter, these symptoms may be a side effect.
Five Ways To Relieve SAD
Now to the good part: how can we relieve the symptoms of SAD? Here are our top five ways to relieve SAD naturally, and four of them don’t necessarily take up extra time:
Light therapy is a time-tested treatment for SAD and some other forms of depression, thanks to its ability to restore and rebalance levels of serotonin and melatonin. Most light therapy devices are lightboxes set between 2,500 and 10,000 lux, which you may sit in front of for 30 minutes to several hours daily. It can take a week to start seeing noticeable relief. If you’re a busy mom, you may find it most convenient to use the lightbox while doing chores such as ironing or cleaning the dishes. The lightbox is bright, so keep it away from very young kids.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that aims to reframe unhelpful thoughts and create new habits that promote physical and mental health. This is often used in combination with light therapy or other treatment. Unlike the other treatments listed here, it does take time from your schedule. We recommend it if negative thought patterns, such as associating winter with a difficult time in your past, are affecting your mood.
Walking and other forms of aerobic exercise, inside or outside, may help relieve SAD too. If you spend spare moments scrolling through social media or playing mobile games, why not switch it up for a quick home workout or walk outside? Mindfulness, meditation, and yoga are also great ways to change up your routine. Even small shifts into mindfulness can stimulate the function of the pineal gland, creating more melatonin to promote relaxation. Paying attention to your breath is a great way to start. Begin by bringing awareness to where your breath feels most prominent, either at the chest, back of the throat, or belly. I love how yoga gently incorporates mindfulness and breathing to bring about a greater sense of well-being. These days you can find in-person yoga classes or free classes on YouTube.
Tryptophan supplementation is a mom-friendly accompaniment to light therapy or any other treatment you’re taking for SAD, as it is convenient and relatively free of side effects. Research shows that it can increase the efficacy of light therapy in people who are partially or poorly responsive to the treatment.
Herbal medicines such as Rhodiola can inhibit MAO, a neurotransmitter-degrading enzyme that reduces levels of serotonin and dopamine. As serotonin lifts mood and dopamine boosts motivation, this can relieve SAD, and it’s how lightbox therapy works, too. Support from a naturopathic doctor can help you find the right herbs, especially if you also have another issue such as anxiety or ADHD.
SAD is a, well, sad state of affairs when you want to enjoy the winter holidays or celebrate the beginning of spring or summer. The good news is that there are ways to relieve your symptoms and you’re far from alone. If you’re struggling with lingering SAD and are ready to make a change, feel free to contact me for a face-to-face or telehealth appointment.