By Laura Peterson
The champagne glasses from New Year’s Eve are still drying in the dish rack and it suddenly hits like a ton of bricks – the seasonal blues! Also known by its official name, Seasonal Adjustment Disorder, this form of depression hits many people every year, striking as early as November and lasting until March. Since I’ve been a victim of S.A.D. myself in years past, this year I decided to do some research on both the facts and the holistic approaches to fighting it.
Surprisingly, there are no “facts” about Seasonal Adjustment Disorder aside from these: the disorder was first noted in 1845, but wasn’t officially named until the 1980’s. Other than that, S.A.D. is more of a theory regarding the decrease of sunlight in the colder months. According to health professionals, our bodies produce more melatonin (a hormone) with the increase in darkness during the fall and winter and that makes us sleepier. We translate that sleepiness as depression in our fast-paced lifestyles.
Though I do agree with the validity of the sunlight theory, there is also a lot of validity to the theory that our lifestyle, thanks to our holiday schedule, sets us up for an emotional and physical “crash” after New Year’s. Starting with Thanksgiving, (or perhaps even Halloween) we begin a lifestyle of excess – overeating, drinking more alcohol, consuming lots of processed, sugary foods, etc. – that lasts for over two months. We bring a great deal of stress into our lives at the same time by stretching our finances and overextending ourselves socially, when we naturally should be slowing down to match what is happening in nature. Right after New Year’s, the parties stop, the celebratory foods suddenly become “bad” again and we are finally forced to slow down. But after the whirlwind of the past couple of months, it feels more like a let down than a slow down! Rather than taking a deep breath and enjoying the quick halt to the craziness, most people feel lonely, bored, anxious and frustrated. We go from fa-la-la to fuddy-duddy.
Since I am a true holistic health practitioner, my suggestion to you, dear readers, is to look within yourself to find your own individual reason for feeling the winter blues. If the theory that resonates most with you is the hibernation-like state our bodies go into in the darker months, then try increasing your daily amount of sleep by one or two hours. So, if you normally go to sleep at midnight, try turning in at 10 or 11pm. You’ve seen that Friends episode at least a dozen times, so turn the TV off and get some shut-eye! In fact, turn the television and the computer off at least an hour before bedtime. The electromagnetic energy given off from the screens interferes with our bodies’ electromagnetic energy in a negative way, making us feel drained and depressed. Allow yourself some quiet time to unwind. Treat yourself to 30 minutes or so of moisturizing, grooming, etc. Your winter-dried skin would certainly appreciate that.
You could also bump up your level of outdoor activity during the precious few sunlight hours we have. It could be as simple as taking an hour-long walk every day, just to get out and away from your desk. Our bodies need sunlight, as it provides us with vitamin D, so it’s not just a matter of some “fresh air.”
Another great new habit to adopt would be making some herbal tea and settling down for an hour or so every night with a good book. (Don’t read in bed though. There are only two things you should do in bed — sleeping or making love!) The warmth of the tea and the mental stimulation of reading could have a profound affect on your mood. Experiment with calming teas like Yogi Tea – Bedtime, which is a blend of Chamomile, Valerian, St. John’s Wort, Passion Flower and Skullcap. Calming herbal teas can help ease anxiety and bring the peace of mind you need at the end of the evening to get to sleep. The ritual of making your tea and then settling into your comfy spot to sip the tea and read can become a wonderful new winter tradition for you. Rituals have a profound influence on our mood, and finding one you feel positive about can help you overcome any bad mood.
Another way to counter-act the lack of sunlight is to replace your regular light bulbs with full spectrum bulbs, like Verilux or Chromalux. I have noticed a big difference in my own mood over the past few winters since switching to Verilux bulbs, especially in the bedroom and bathroom. There are also alarm clocks that use full spectrum light therapy to assist with one of the other major complaints of S.A.D. sufferers – difficulty waking up. Nature’s Tapestry – Digital Plus Sunrise Alarm Clock BioBrite EZ Wake is one example of such a clock. Thirty minutes before the alarm is set to go off, a full spectrum light in the clock gradually increases, allowing our sleeping bodies to become adjusted to the light in a natural way rather than shocked by it. Of course, if you live somewhere that you can leave your curtains open to allow real sunlight in, that would be optimal. However, in New York City that’s not always an option, plus many of us have to be up before the sun to get ready for work. (Gee, no wonder we’re depressed!)
Should the theory of over-indulgence resulting in a major crash resonate with you, perhaps a slow detox is in order. Though it is important to cut back on processed carbs and alcohol, rather than feeling pressured to stop abruptly on January 2nd, try crowding these things out gradually by simply adding healthy things. Add dark, leafy greens, whole grains, and remember to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. If cold water doesn’t appeal to you when it’s cold outside, then leave bottled water out of the refrigerator so you can drink it at room temperature. Herbal teas are also a great way to hydrate and stay warm. Maintaining (or adopting) a good level of exercise in your routine is also crucial in combating any mood disorder. By bringing these positive things into your routine, you’ll find it easier to start excluding the harmful things without the sense of “forbidden fruit.” The last thing you need when you are already down is to feel like you failed at something you set your mind to. So focus on adding rather than subtracting.
Increasing your daily intake of Omega 3 fatty acids, specifically DHA which is found in eggs and fish, will also help combat S.A.D. by boosting your physical and mental energy levels. The best fish oil I’ve come across is Nordic Naturals. Not only is this brand of fish oil capsules made from wild-caught fish, free from mercury contamination, but they also were kind enough to add pleasant flavors like lemon and strawberry to couteract the fishy aftertaste. Some people may find adding a good multi-vitamin into their daily diet will help improve their mood, especially if you aren’t eating a well-balanced diet. There are two brands of vitamins I know of that claim to combat mood disorders – EMPower, from True Hope, and Equilib, from Evince International. Both of these products combine vitamins, minerals and plant enzymes that supposedly support the nervous system, decreasing feelings of anxiety and depression.
As I mentioned, it’s important to take some time to get in touch with your own feelings and discover what may be causing them. Holistic health means finding your own unique balance of mind, body and spirit, so try to rejoice in this seasonal down time to work on finding that balance, and let’s all raise a cup of herbal tea to toast our holistic health in 2006!
Yogi Teas are available in most natural food markets.
Nordic Natural Fish Oils can be found at Vitamin Shoppe.
Verilux bulbs can be found at Bed, Bath & Beyond.
Chromalux bulbs can be found at Vitamin Shoppe or through the company website: www.lumiram.com
Nature’s Tapestry Digital Plus Sunrise Alarm Clock BioBrite EZ Wake can be ordered through the company website: www.naturestapestry.com
True Hope, EMPower Vitamins can be ordered through the company website: www.truehope.com/_empowerplus/empowerplus.asp
Equilib Vitamins can be ordered through the company website: www.i4test.com/equilib/index.asp