Monday, February 1, 2010

Tips to Overcome the Winter Blues: Alternative Health Remedies for SAD

By Amy Phillips-Gary

What a blessing that the sun is actually shining on this bitterly cold February morning!

But, unfortunately, this is somewhat of an anomaly for winter. In the middle of the cold, stark and dark winter, it's easy to get the blues.

For seemingly no apparent reason, I get more fidgety than usual. It's as if I cannot stand another minute in the environment I find myself. I tend to be crabbier with my family and less tolerant than during other times.

Can this be chocked up to this season of frigid temperatures and little sun?

Experts say that yes, indeed, it can.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which also goes by the name of winter depression, is something that lots of folks experience. Approximately 10 million people, just in the U.S., feel the blues to such an extent that it has been given a medical diagnoses.

Some of the symptoms of SAD include the following: difficulties sleeping, difficulties getting out of bed, lethargy, despair, guilt, frequent irritation, lower sex drive, decreased productivity, weight gain, appetite changes and other indicators.

Of course, there is a difference between the blues and full-blown depression. There is even a difference between SAD and depression which is not relieved with the blooming of daffodils in the Spring.

*Please consult a health care practitioner if your blues, depression or SAD feels out of control or too overwhelming for you to handle by yourself. If you are considering hurting yourself or another person because of your current emotional state, I encourage you to seek help from a trained professional immediately.

Bring on the light

The relative absence of light and the sun during the winter months is believed to be the main culprit in the development of SAD and the winter blues.

We receive healthy doses of Vitamin D from the sunlight which helps our bodies absorb calcium, can lower cholesterol and can even possibly prevent the formation of cancerous tumors. Sunlight also stimulates the pineal gland which releases chemicals such as tryptamines (melatonin) which keeps our bodies regulated.

One natural way that SAD is treated is by increasing a person's exposure to light. Special artificial lights have been developed that simulate some of the beneficial effects of the sun.

Another suggestion, which may seem obvious, is to make the most of the winter sun that we do receive. On a day like today when the glorious sun is out and about, bundle up and get outside.

I know, it's cold out there. And, unfortunately, you won't receive Vitamin D from the winter sun as you will from the sun in other seasons. However, you might find that your mood brightens by soaking up the rays that are available to you.

Feel the feelings

I'm a big proponent of allowing the emotions that come up. Rather than searching for that immediate “cure” for the winter blues, it might be beneficial for you to give yourself permission and room to simply experience your feelings.

If you cry more often or feel more tired during the winter months, that can be okay.

I do not recommend that anyone stay in the blues (especially in depression), however. When you are stuck in the unhappy, dissatisfied and dismal place of SAD, you aren't going to be as effective at doing the things in life that you want to do.

Stay in touch with how you feel. If you tend to become listless and numbed during the winter, be aware of that tendency and make a date with yourself to check in at least once a day.

After giving yourself the time to be irritable, cry or whatever it is that you happen to be feeling, shake things up. Do something different for yourself.

This interruption of your usual pattern can be extremely helpful in leaving behind the blues and moving toward an improved state.

For example, if you notice that you turn to eating when you feel down, rather than attempting to eat your way out of SAD, choose a different activity instead. Visit a friend, look at a photography book with brightly colored flowers or beach scenes, plan your garden for Spring or whatever unusual action appeals to you.

Other alternative and natural remedies for SAD:

  • Take a Vitamin D supplement. Magnesium and Omega-3 oils are also helpful.

  • Try the herb St. John's Wort. This is a natural way to ease anxiety and depression.

  • Consider homeopathy. Mag Phos, Kali Phos and Nat Mur are sometimes a good match to SAD symptoms.*

  • Use the Bach Flower Essence Mustard.

  • Infuse more light, bright colors and green plants into your everyday surroundings.

When you find yourself dragging your way through winter, look around at all of the aspects of your life for which you are grateful. Challenge yourself to find 3 things each day that you genuinely appreciate.

As you appreciate, bask in those moments. Let that inner sense of light fill you and expand right along with it.

*Homeopathic remedies can be tricky. Each remedy addresses a whole host of specific conditions. Research these remedies and try the one that seems to be the best fit for what you are experiencing.

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