Seasonal Affective Disorder: Natural Tools for Coping
S.A.D. We've all heard of it - and likely we've all experienced some lull in energy and mood during the colder months at some point.
But what is it, really??
Seasonal Affective Disorder usually starts to come on in autumn and may last until spring. True S.A.D strikes approximately 6% of the population; while 14% of the population experiences a milder form of the "winter blues". Women account for roughly 60-70% of those affected by S.A.D.
*Lethargy, difficulty focusing, hypersomnia (increased sleep)
*Depression, negative thoughts, decreased social interaction, loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed, lowered libido
*Increased food cravings (especially rich, carb-heavy foods), overeating, possible weight gain
*Anxiety, irritability, restlessness, "cabin fever"
What causes it?
Many people believe S.A.D. is a result of cold weather. However, though colder temps do tend to make us less active, the reality is that Seasonal Affective Disorder has more to do with decreased exposure to daylight.
The pineal gland is located deep in the break and responds to light and seasonal changes. It secretes melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep and mood disorders, when light is low. In the darker months, this glad kicks out more melatonin, resulting in increased sleepiness, lethargy and possible lower mood.
What can I do about it?
Acupuncture is a fantastic resource for managing S.A.D. Fine needles inserted into the skin and muscle layers can stimulate hormone release into the bloodstream, including dopamine, serotonin, noradrenalin, and norepinephrine. These are all natural mood enhancers that our bodies produce. Acupuncture may also help to regulate the hypothalamus, which controls circadian rhythms and hunger.
Also, the mere act of settling down into an acupuncture treatment can allow us space to come out of our "fight or flight" more, which we can get caught up in with daily life stressors. This gives the body increased opportunity to deeply relax and heal itself. One to two treatments a week is sufficient to produce these desired effects.
Other self care options include:
*Regular exercise, especially cardio, to increase circulation and keep energy up
*Vitamin D supplementation - we do not get enough sun on the winter to produce adequate levels. Your primary health care provider can easily run labs to check your current levels.
*Consider light therapy - according to the Mayo Clinic, while "happy lights" won't cure S.A.D., it may lessen symptoms, improve sleep disorders, depression, and other conditions (look for a light therapy box that emits as little UV light as possible)
*Limit carb and sugar intake - when you do get cravings for these things, opt for whole grains, hearty squashes, yams and sweet potatoes, etc.
*Avoid overeating in general, which can lead to low energy and decreased moods
*Keep an active social calendar - meet up with friends for outdoor exercise or Zoom social hours or game nights to ward off feelings of loneliness and social isolation.
*Regularly engage in hobbies and creative activities - this will give you a stress outlet and help to feel productive and accomplished