As we head into winter and the days get shorter, for many people that can mean a change in mood. It is not uncommon to feel a little sluggish or that you want to hibernate and eat more comfort foods this time of year. However, for some, low winter moods can be more serious.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is characterized by recurrent episodes of depression, usually in the late fall and winter, alternating with periods of normal or high mood the rest of the year. There is still debate in the scientific community over whether SAD is a distinct mental illness or a specific type of major depressive disorder. According to the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH), common symptoms of SAD include fatigue, hopelessness, and social withdrawal; depressions are most often mild to moderate, but they can be severe.
Thankfully, there are many natural approaches that can be helpful for maintaining a healthy mood in the winter months!
Light therapy consists of regular, daily exposure to a “happy light,” which artificially simulates high-intensity sunlight. You spend about 30 minutes sitting in front of the light after waking up in the morning. The light box should provide an exposure to 10,000 lux of light and emit as little UV light as possible.
Psychotherapy (or talk therapy) can help you identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors that may be making you feel worse, learn how to manage stress, and learn healthy coping methods.
Fostering the mind-body connection through techniques like reiki, yoga, tai-chi, meditation, music therapy, or art therapy can help alleviate stress and help you feel more grounded.
Regular exercise can boost the immune system, elevate mood, and manage stress by modulating our stress hormone cortisol. If you are able to exercise outside, even better.
Stick with a consistent, whole-foods diet, and avoid processed foods as much as possible. Vegetable intake is especially important for making sure that you are getting enough micro- and macronutrients in your diet to support the production of your neurotransmitters which regulate your mood.
Getting regular, uninterrupted, quality sleep (7-10 hours per night for most of us) is hugely important for maintaining not just our mood, but also our overall health!
Besides basic lifestyle modifications, you may also want to consider the following supplements (talk with your naturopathic doctor or healthcare provider to determine a safe and appropriate dose):
Vitamin D is essential to many of our body’s processes and plays important roles in regulating our serotonin (one of our main happiness hormones). Normally our bodies can create vitamin D when our skin is exposed to sunlight. Unfortunately if you are in a northern latitude such as Minnesota, the spectrum of sunlight you need to make vitamin D is not accessible in the winter!
The B vitamins are water soluble vitamins that are precursors to hundreds of biochemical processes in our bodies. They are most abundant in foods such as meat, fish, and dairy, so if you are vegetarian or vegan supplementing with B vitamins may be extra important - especially if you are combatting low mood.
These “friendly bugs” help more than just the gut and influence many body systems such as the nervous system, respiratory system, kidneys, and skin. They are also known to modulate inflammation and our immune responses.
The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil can be helpful in improving mood and inflammation. Our central nervous system has the second highest concentration of lipids in the human body, which make omega-3 fatty acids particularly essential for normal nervous system development and function.
And many more…:
There are many herbs, vitamins, amino acids, and energetic forms of medicine that can be helpful in treating SAD, elevating mood and maintaining wellness. Naturopathic doctors are extensively trained in botanical medicine and nutrition and can help you find a supplement regimen that is safe, effective, and tailored to you. It is helpful to always keep your doctor fully informed of all medications, supplements and herbs that you are taking so that they can help you avoid drug-herb and drug-nutrient interactions and potential adverse side effects.
If you have concerns about low winter mood please reach out to the Wellness Minneapolis team. We are here to support you!
- What is seasonal affective disorder?
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
- What is seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?
- Food for Mood: Relevance of Nutritional Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Depression and Anxiety