Holding the most appropriate acronym, seasonal affective disorder (SAD, for short) is a form of depression that starts to creep up around fall time and tends to stick until the end of winter. People who suffer from this medical condition generally experience a decline in their mood, a lack of interest in daily activities, and difficulty getting out of bed. Other symptoms include fatigue, irritability, anxiety, carb cravings, and weight gain.
Before we share our best natural remedies for seasonal affective disorder, It’s important to understand a bit more about the mood disorder and what can trigger it.
Why do we get SAD?
It’s believed that SAD occurs as a response to fewer daylight hours and a lack of sunlight, affecting us most during the months of January and February (for Northern hemisphere dwellers). It’s estimated that between four and six percent of Americans suffer from SAD and studies show that the condition is more common in women than men, affecting those aged between 18 and 30.
- Melatonin: Melatonin is the hormone that our bodies produce when it gets dark. Its role is to induce sleepiness so that we have a good night’s rest. So, if winter in your part of the hemisphere brings more hours of darkness, it can lead to increased production of melatonin.
- Serotonin: Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (brain chemical) that puts us in a good mood. Considering reduced sunlight can cause serotonin levels to fall, it’s no surprise that we feel down in the dumps during winter months.
- Evolution: On top of biochemical imbalances, the sluggish feeling we get from SAD could have an evolutionary explanation. Seeing as food was scarce during the colder months, this may have prompted our bodies to adapt to conserve as much energy as possible.
What are the natural remedies for seasonal affective disorder?
Good news! We’re here to help you beat SAD. Start by reading up on the following natural treatments, then pick one or more of these natural remedies for seasonal affective disorder. Choose ones that you can realistically add to your lifestyle. Make a few small changes and you might be well on your way to a brighter winter.
As we mentioned, both sunlight and darkness trigger the release of different chemicals in your brain. Exposure to sunlight (or simply daylight) is thought to increase the brain’s release of serotonin, which can boost your mood and help you feel calm and focused.
To keep your serotonin levels up and keep your melatonin levels balanced, try to spend enough time outside during the colder months. Aim to get around 10–30 minutes of midday sunlight, several times per week — every day if you can. Your exposure time should depend on how sensitive your skin is to sunlight. To explain, those with darker skin tones may need a bit more time outside. If you can’t go outside, try to position yourself close to a window for maximum exposure to daylight.
One of the most important natural remedies for seasonal affective disorder is to maintain a healthy diet that’s both varied and balanced. If you’re following the 8fit meal plan, you’re on the right track. Now all you need to do is choose recipes that contain the following natural mood boosters.
- Dark green vegetables – Contain serotonin-boosting folate and vitamin B12
- Whole grains & complex carbs – Dense carbs that stimulate serotonin production
- Fatty fish – Loaded with vitamin D and omega-3s for dopamine and serotonin levels
- Nuts & seeds – Can be high in omega-3s and depression-fighting selenium
- Dark chocolate – Packed with flavonoids that reduce stress-causing hormones
- Avocados – Full of mood-enhancing folate and calming tryptophan
For further indication on what to focus on when eating for SAD, we’ve highlighted the key players when it comes to brain-healthy vitamins and minerals. We suggest using whole foods as a primary source of nutrients, but if you’re a picky eater or have problems absorbing certain nutrients, opt for natural supplements.
B vitamins help your body convert proteins from your diet into the neurotransmitters that affect mood and energy. On top of that, B-complex vitamins improve your responses to stress, leading to a healthy heart. While most B vitamins for are beneficial for mental health, specifically depression, the best ones for SAD include B6, B9 (aka folic acid or folate) and B12.
Here’s what to eat for B vitamins:
- Liver and organ meats from beef, pork, lamb or chicken contain eight important B-vitamins.
- Fish like salmon or trout contain low levels of mercury, which means they’re perfectly safe to consume.
- Shellfish like oysters, clams, and mussels not only contain B vitamins, but also minerals like zinc, selenium and manganese, and omega-3s.
- Nutritional yeast or brewer’s yeast is fortified with B vitamins, which makes it a beneficial source of vitamin B12 for vegans.
- Dark leafy vegetables like romaine lettuce, spinach, turnip greens, and collards are among the best vegetable sources of folate (B9).
People who suffer from SAD and depression were found to have lower vitamin D levels compared to those not affected. That said, vitamin D doesn’t just play a leading role when it comes to depression, it also contributes to bone health, immune system health, lower inflammation, and cancer prevention. If you’re unsure about your vitamin D levels, take a trip to the doctor and ask for a vitamin D test.
How to eat for vitamin D:
- Fatty fish like salmon, oysters, herring, mackerel and sardines. The wilder they are, the more vitamin D they contain.
- Livers from fish, chicken, lamb or beef. Be cautious when consuming something like fish liver, because it contains vitamin A which is to be consumed in moderation.
- Egg yolks are also rich in vitamin D, so instead of going for a sportsman’s egg white omelette choose a sunshine-yellow one next time.
- Natural sunlight allows your skin to synthesize its own vitamin D naturally, so try to spend a reasonable amount of time outdoors, especially under a weak winter sun.
Omega-3 fats (aka linolenic acid) are polyunsaturated fatty acids — some of which are essential for our heart, eye, brain, immune system, and sexual health. On top of that, omega-3 fats have been shown to have a significant impact on lowering depression. If that’s not enough to motivate you to add some omegas to your diet, they also help reduce inflammation and lower blood pressure.
- Cold-water fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, sardines or krill are full of omega-3s.
- Nuts and seeds such as walnuts, flaxseed and chia seeds have the healthy fats you need.
- Plant oils like flaxseed oil, canola oil, and soybean oil are great oils to use in cooking and baking for those omega-3 fatty acids.
If adapting your diet isn’t cutting it, consider trying food or herb supplements as a natural remedy for seasonal affective disorder. These can work as natural antidepressants that will enhance your mood without causing any unpleasant short-term or long-term side effects.
Studies suggest that the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil can contribute to healthy emotional balance. It’s also been proposed to benefit those with conditions such as schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, borderline personality disorder, and attention deficit disorder. If you’re concerned about the mercury content in fish, then finding a high-quality fish oil supplement could be the answer.
St. John’s wort
This herbal remedy has long been used in Europe as a treatment for mood disorders. In fact, St. John’s wort has been found to be as effective as conventional antidepressants in the treatment of mild to moderate depression, but without the long list of side effects. It takes about eight weeks for the full effect to be felt. Precautions: The herb can interfere with certain medicines, so do your research and talk to your doctor before taking it regularly. Also, St. John’s work can make you more photosensitive, so beware of carrying it over to the summertime.
Rhodiola Rosea is an adaptogenic herb that supports the body in coping with stressors, both biological and physical. It helps balance energy levels, improves mental and physical performance, and promotes a healthy and happy mood. With these benefits, it’s no surprise that Rhodiola has been used as a natural treatment for alleviating mild or moderate depressive symptoms.
Bundling up and heading out for some exercise is another great natural remedy for seasonal affective disorder. That’s because you’re not only raising your endorphin and serotonin levels through working out, you’re also exposing yourself to natural sunlight and fresh, crisp air. You can choose to go for a jog, a bike ride, or even a quick HIIT workout in the park.
Last but not least, we recommend mind-body connection and stress management as a natural remedy for seasonal affective disorder. Chronic stress may increase the risk of developing depressive disorders, so learning to manage stress in a healthy way can make a huge impact on your life. You might want to consider adding activities like yoga, meditation, painting, self-care and other relaxation techniques to your lifestyle. Also be sure to express your thoughts and emotions with a partner, friend or even a therapist.
Be good to yourself
Getting plenty of exposure to sunlight, eating nourishing serotonin-boosting foods, and incorporating regular exercise into your routine are the main ways to naturally fend off wintertime sadness. If you’re still feeling down, the natural supplements and relaxing activities are also likely to boost your mood levels. And, if all else fails, just visualize yourself a tropical holiday and look forward to a winter that can only get better.
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