S.A.D - Seasonal Affective Disorder



When I first moved to the East Coast (Buffalo!!) from California (San Francisco), I was excited to experience The Seasons, even winter.  A real winter. The crunching of the snow underfoot, the reflection of the sunlight off of the snow, watching snow fall at dusk, the exhilarating cold, the hats, the mittens, I loved all of it.

Twenty years later, although I still love the distinct seasons, the novelty of winter is starting to wear off. It’s not the cold or the snow, or even the ice that is getting to me. It’s the grey- the days and days on end of grey.  Is it getting grey-er every year, or is it me? It's nearly impossible not to be affected. I can’t help but feel sluggish, unmotivated, and blah.



The winter blues is a very real thing. There is even a medical name for it when it gets really bad. Seasonal Affective Disorder.  You don’t have to have full blown SAD to experience the symptoms of lethargy, lack of motivation, depression, fatigue, low appetite, sleep issues, and so much more blah-ness.

What science has discovered is that when our bodies don’t get enough sunlight, levels of serotonin (a neurotransmitter that affects mood), melatonin (a hormone that affects sleep and mood), and vitamin D levels (which affect so much- serotonin levels, Calcium levels,  bone health, immune system, brain function, inflammation, etc., etc) go out of whack.



In Chinese medicine, winter is a time of inward movement, of storage, of deep rest before the re-awakening and re-birth of spring. It is a necessary part of the cycle of life. In the plant and animal world, it is a time of hibernation. But in the modern human world, we don’t slow down. Everything about our bodies wants to, because that is how we are biologically programmed. But human-made  systems that produce food, light, temperature regulation, and non-winter like environments enable us to keep us moving at a pace that isn’t true to our biology. Convenient and often necessary as this may be, it causes us to be out of right relationship with nature, time, and ourselves.



When we disconnect from Nature and our true nature, our bodies and our psyches let us know there is something off balance.  Sometimes, letting go of pre-conceived personal or societal notions and pressures is enough to shift the dynamic back to one of better balance. What if we were to allow ourselves to slow down, to go to sleep earlier and rise later- with the sun? Eat seasonally appropriate foods? What if we embraced the extra 5 pounds to keep us warmer during the cold months? What if we spent more time appreciating the slow down, going inward within ourselves, or enjoying each other’s company by the hearth? Would that make a difference?



Sometimes, there is a more significant chemical or hormonal imbalance that needs to be addressed. We are so lucky to live in a time when we have so many options, including body-chemistry-balancers and potent anti- microbials and anti-virals in the form of easy to swallow pills.  My personal preference is to support the body, mind, and spirit to find its own way back to its own state of balance. But sometimes, we need more (or less!). It's important to recognize this.

As a practitioner, I always encourage my patients to explore and weigh their options, before jumping to any decisions. Sometimes surgery or pharmaceuticals are warranted, but other times, herbal medicine or lifestyle changes are a better fit. Sometimes it’s a combination of all of the above.  It’s different for everyone and every situation; and ultimately, it's a personal choice. 

Take Vitamin D3 daily

Sit under a full spectrum light for 30 minutes a day (or more)

Move your body. It hard to motivate when it’s grey and damp, but it makes a huge difference. If it’s too icky to go outside, put on some music and dance. Or stand in one place and bounce and jiggle.

Cut down sugar consumption. In the moment sugar gives energy, but it leeches vitality.

Talk to at least one friend a day.

Laugh- even if it’s forced.

Get out of the house.

If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, seek help from a qualified professional who hears you. Please don’t be ashamed and PLEASE don't wait.

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