*Article published in Health Wellness and Safety Magazine
Seasonal Affective Disorder – A Call for Balance
As we get deeper into our Canadian winter, the nights get longer and the days overcast and crisp, many of us notice a shift in our mood and sense of well-being. Some experience a dramatic decrease in energy and motivation, feelings of depression and irritability, an increased desire for sleep, or sleep interruption, and weight gain.
Our relationship with the sun is multi-faceted. Physiologically, less vitamin D is being synthesized. Melatonin, responsible for sleep and wake cycles decreases, and cortisol, the “stress hormone” increases. Combine this with our nostalgic memories of fun in the sun, and it’s no wonder winter can feel like a black abyss! Let’s take a new perspective this year, and enjoy winter for what it has to offer.
Full-spectrum light therapy has anti-depressive effects in SAD by increasing melatonin levels, feelings of well-being, and energy. Researchers believe the full spectrum lighting acts as a “co-factor” allowing all normal bodily processes to occur. For best results, place full spectrum fixture approximately 2 feet away, while eating breakfast and reading the newspaper, while doing your morning meditation, or while you’re on your home exercise equipment. It is important to allow light to hit the eyes every few minutes.
A whole foods diet is the foundation of our health and is not an exception for SAD. Specifically, by eating a diet rich in fish, chicken, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and eliminating sugar and processed foods, you are getting Vitamin D, brain supporting good fats like EPA and DHA, plus managing your blood sugar, to avoid the highs and lows which contribute to weight gain, and mood changes.
Many Canadians are deficient in vit D to begin with. Come winter, with our decreased sun exposure, the deficiency increases. Vitamin D is needed to maintain brain function, brain detoxification pathways, and is intrinsically involved in the central nervous system. Supplementing Vitamin D elevates mood, concentration, and assists in weight loss.
Increase Serotonin, the “feel good” hormone
Serotonin is the body’s natural anti-depressant. 5 htp is an extract from the herb griffonia simplicifolia, which increases the body’s ability to make its own serotonin. Serotonin surges after any carbohydrate meal, however, with simple carbs, such as white flour, cereals, and sweets, a greater amount of insulin is released to restore blood sugar levels, stressing the body, decreasing the immune system, and encouraging fat storage.
20 minutes twice a day is all that’s needed to maintain equilibrium. Regular meditation shifts brain activity from the right hemisphere to the left, increasing feelings of acceptance and contentment, and decreasing perceived stress.
Allowing sunshine to hit your face and hands for 10-15 minutes a day may be enough for the body to produce its own vitamin D. Running around in the snow, making snow angels, walking your dog, or cross country skiing, are great ways to get your heart-rate up and increase serotonin. Being with nature is also good for the soul! Absorbing the energy of the trees, inhaling the fresh air, and being active can change our perspective, allowing us to appreciate the beauty of our surroundings.
When our physiological needs are met, it is easier to adopt an attitude of acceptance and detachment, a “this too shall pass” M.O. Set the intention that this year will be different, and make the small routine changes that will dramatically improve your experience of life this winter season.