Fight the winter blues, starting NOW!
If fall starts to bring you down, the diminishing daylight, cooling high-temps, early arrival of Christimas promotions, you are not alone. Now is the time we in the northern climes start to think about socking in for winter, getting ready for the holiday meals, and reducing our daily activity because it’s simply too cold or dark in both the morning and the evening. How do you keep active? How do you get more energy? What’s keeping you down?
The answers may be multifold. If you are like me you may be affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a diagnosable condition in which you lose energy and feel depressive symptoms during the winter months. There are many potential triggers for SAD symptoms including serotonin production and consequent melatonin production in the pineal gland. Light enters the eyes and is processed by the hypothalamus and pineal gland to synthesize serotonin into melatonin, which helps regulate circadian patterns and reproductive patterns in mammals. Humans have the potential to change their melatonin production through artificial lighting. There are light-therapy lamps that allow us to use high-intensity, full-spectrum wavelengths to stimulate the pineal even as the quality of our daylight diminishes. This means we can use lights in our home to help battle the biochemical precursor to SAD but it is recommended that we act early in the season. Once that system has started to go into shut-down it becomes harder to restart.
Starting light therapy in Sept and October may help you stay steady through the winter. It has worked for me for over 15 years. I find that if I wait too long to use my light, the winter drags. The intensity of the light and its proximity to your eyes seems to be a key in the treatment. Check with your doctor if you think this treatment might be worth looking into. There are special, prescribable units that may be more effective from a cost, safety, and efficacy standpoint.
What else might help? Maintain a simple, varied diet! It seems silly to say but so many of our modern ailments seem to be aided by diets high in a variety of natural foods. The suggestion to eat from the rainbow means taking in fruits and vegetables that provide vitamins and nutrients in easy-to-process forms. Fruits and veggies are high in water-soluble vitamins (Bs, C, K), minerals (iron, calcium, phosphorous, nitrogen). These are readily transmitted by the blood and require regular consumption as they are used. But you may also need the fat-soluble vitamins (A, E, D) which are processed and often stored in the liver. D (D3 is often added to milk and has been the subject of many studies relating to energy levels, weight loss, and healing) has been linked to SAD symptoms. But it is important to discuss your diet with your doctor or a licensed nutritionist/dietician to ensure that you are not supplementing with too much of the fat-soluble vitamins. Overuse can lead to toxic levels which cause serious conditions.
Simple diets limit the intake of refined grains, processed sugars, artificial sweeteners; meaning most fast food. And diets high in fast food have been directly correlated with depression and SAD. It only makes sense, the things that most closely resemble their natural state will probably keep us healthiest. The Mayo Clinic has some great information on SAD and what cofactors may contribute to symptoms.
The other treatment that I find keeps my overall mood in balance is regular exercise (go figure). Regular bouts of medium to high-intensity exercise stimulate the nervous system, help regulate hormone levels, use stored energy, and generally fights inertia that comes from cooling temps and socking in. Find videos that challenge you a little but something that you will maintain. If a program is too intense or too long why would you want to keep using it? Try group classes at a fitness facility or community center. Get some friends together for regular outings. Or, my favorite, have a personal trainer come to your home to train you how to exercise intelligently, with solid form and intention, noting your personal movement patterns and challenges. Let them program regular workouts for a gym in your facility, on your home-gym equipment, or using bodyweight and low-equipment. Like food, workouts can be simple and still very effective. Regular exercise can be life-changing for many reasons but staving off the “winter blues” seems like an obvious reason to get a program going now. Keep the blues at bay and improve your quality of life.