Feeling SAD? It could be winter...
Updated: Jul 11, 2019
Did you know that many people struggle more with their mental health in the wintertime? Feeling down during winter is such a recognised phenomenon that there is even a term given to it: seasonal affective disorder (SAD). You have to wonder who came up with that wonderful acronym.
So why does this occur? One scientific explanation is as follows. You may well know that serotonin is a neurotransmitter released in the brain that has the effect of making us feel, well, happy/loved/content. Many antidepressant medications work by prolonging the effects of serotonin in the brain.
As well as being a ‘feel-good’ chemical, serotonin is also a precursor to melatonin, meaning it can be converted to melatonin. The role of melatonin is to make you feel sleepy. Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland (also in the brain), and the trigger for the production of melatonin is declining light levels. In other words, when it gets dark, we begin to feel more sleepy.
During winter, we receive less natural light; therefore, we are likely to secrete more melatonin. It is possible that more of our ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter, serotonin, is converted to melatonin, therefore our mood drops.
As well as the scientific explanation, the more metaphysical reasons are also quite apparent. Many animals hibernate during wintertime or become more dormant. Trees shed their leaves, and many organisms reach the end of a life cycle. Many of us have a natural tendency to turn inward during winter. We socialise less, go out less, spend more time at home, are less inclined to exercise (also a natural antidepressant), sleep more, etc. We become more introspective, which can mean dwelling on things. Decreased social contact reduces the opportunities to talk things through. In some people, this winter tendency can become more pronounced and problematic and manifest as a form of depression.
So, what can you do about it?
Well, the most ‘natural’ solution is to increase visual exposure to UV light. Ironically, we’re more likely to sleep in during winter, and therefore miss out on more light in the morning, and thus produce more melatonin, and feel more sleepy…. So, set your alarm and get up and go for a walk in the morning. As well as getting that valuable light exposure, you’re also engaging in some exercise (one of nature’s best antidepressants) and stimulating your circulation, meaning you’re less likely to feel cold, and less likely to get sick! Lack of natural light can be a real problem for those that start work early, finish late, and work inside a building all day. If this is you, make an effort to get out at lunch!
Interestingly, vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to depression, and some practitioners recommend this vitamin for anyone experiencing low mood. Aside from supplements, vitamin D can be found in fish (mackerel, tuna, salmon, sardines) and dairy foods such as eggs and cheese. You can also get it from the sun – another link between winter, sunlight, and depression.
Salmon and eggs also contain tryptophan, which is a precursor to that good old neurotransmitter serotonin. Nuts are another good source (and traditionally eaten in winter).
Herbalists have several remedies to choose from. The most famous is St John’s Wort. Rosemary, Damiana, Ginkgo, Lavender, and Lemon Balm have also been used as part of treatment for this condition.
Homoeopathy can bring excellent results for mental and emotional conditions, with Aurum being a powerful remedy for those who feel depressed, especially if they are worse for cloudy weather.
Then there are the flower essences. The Bach Flower Mustard is an excellent remedy for those who feel down without knowing why. Gentian is the choice for those who understand why they are depressed (it’s winter!) Walnut can protect against changes, such as a change in season, and Clematis is an excellent remedy for those who are sleepy or who daydream of a brighter future. The Bush Flower Sunshine Wattle is an excellent choice for those with a negative outlook.
If you get SAD during winter, many natural remedies can help. We recommend you consult your complementary medicine health professional. If you are interested in learning more, sign up to one of our courses, and look forward to living a healthier, happier life.
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