Seasonal Depression - S.A.D.
While depression is a mental health problem affecting millions of men, women and children, the form known as seasonal depression or SAD has specific signs and symptoms that make it easier to understand, diagnose and treat. Like all other forms of depression, SAD may be accompanied by other health problems that also need to be addressed. But in essence the effect of SAD on a sufferer’s mental health will reveal a similar story of reduced mental capacity and energy, joy and self-worth.
What distinguishes SAD from other types of depression is the seasonality – the changes are triggered by low levels of white and blue light that will persist and deepen over the dark months of winter. Treatment begins in autumn and continues until late spring or beyond. In the extreme northern hemisphere there are even more intense or prolonged symptoms and this may be the trigger for higher winter suicide rates in some countries. Changing some aspects of one's lifestyle can have a significant impact and eliminate the need for prescription medicine. Fatigue is a common symptom of all forms of depression but with SAD the need to sleep in the afternoon is overwhelming. Sleep patterns are disrupted more strongly with SAD and this is possibly due to the disruption of melatonin and serotonin, hormones that are influenced by light levels of day and night.
Foods & herbs for the home
- Recognise that depression may lead to changes in eating patterns that are detrimental. Avoiding food is one example. Using favourite foods to change emotional feelings is another powerful mechanism; sugar in particular has the ability to mimic serotonin, the feel good hormone. Highly addictive, a diet high in sugar destroys good health over the long term.
- The supplement 5HTP can boost serotonin levels. Taken at night, it can help deepen sleep as well.
- 8 hours of sleep is highly restorative for the brain and nervous system. Deepen sleep with a pleasant evening drink such as Evening Peace Herbal Tea.
- The brain needs excellent levels of omega 3, 6 and 9. The best levels can be achieved with supplements plus the addition of top-quality oils to foods (preferably added after the food has been cooked or as a salad dressing). Oily fish, flaxseed and hemp seed oils, nut butters and olive oil are all good sources.
- Whole grains will release sugars slowly (avoiding disastrous sugar rushes) especially if they are combined with healthy oils such as those found in avocado, nut butters, nuts and seeds. The best advice is to eliminate all refined grains and sugars.
- Consume foods rich in the whole range of B vitamins because these are vital for the brain and nervous system. B vitamins are found in abundance in green vegetables. Superfood Plus is a food that contains good levels of all the B vitamins, zinc and essential fatty acids.
- Eat pumpkin seeds for extra zinc.
- Low levels of vitamin D are conclusively linked to depression and SAD. The first stage of vitamin D production happens in the skin in response to sunlight. Low light levels, using sunscreen and less outdoor activity that exposes skin are factors that can allow levels to become low. Experts now recommend supplementation of vitamin D3. Established international recommended doses are now known to be too low and a higher RDA is being examined. In the meantime the best way to ensure that you have enough vitamin D – and to determine whether you need to take a supplement – is to have blood serum vitamin D levels tested and work with your GP to achieve optimum levels, especially in winter.
- Alcohol is a brain depressant even though initially it may feel like a cheer up drink. If alcohol is used to alter mood it will have undesirable effects in the long term.
- Coffee drinkers have been found to suffer less depression than coffee avoiders, but this does not include SAD sufferers. To minimise sleep disruption any caffeine intake needs to stop after 2pm for the brain to relax, and aim to stick to 1 cup of tea or coffee a day to avoid detrimental effects on energy levels later in the day. Mullein & Star Anise Herbal Tea is fresh and enlivening without detriment to a good night of sleep.
- Some herbs can have a decided and positive effect for helping to support those with depression, including SAD. Read more about St. John’s Wort in this book by Jill Davies that you can download for free. This herb has a large body of evidence for its use in helping those with SAD.
- Light is the key missing ingredient with SAD. New LED light boxes are small and portable and in the UK are exempt from VAT because they are medical devices. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and do not miss the afternoon session because this will boost energy at a vulnerable point in the day.
- Exercise has a remarkable effect on all body systems and is a key ingredient in the management of SAD. Regular and moderate exercise produces "happy hormones" as well as other mental benefits. Any level of intensity can be helpful for depression. With SAD try to maximise outdoor activities.
- Exercise also grounds energy and moves thought into action. Exercise can be hard to achieve when depressed so consider gaining support from groups.
- Barefoot walking is a useful grounding technique.
- Research shows that any form of daily meditation technique has a profound and beneficial effect on mood and well-being. It is also a key stress management technique. It would appear we need 20 minutes twice a day of a technique such as transcendental meditation to produce maximum benefit.
- Natural healing works with mind, body and spirit. Forming connections within community and family or social groups is another important way in which mild to moderate depression can be managed. Dr Richard Schulze emphasises this and other aspects of health in his book "20 Steps to a Healthier Life" that you can download for free.
- Cognitive behavioural therapy and other “talking” therapies have proved to be excellent for many people, once again affirming the value of connecting to others. Your GP will be able to refer you.
- Essential oils are volatile and have an almost immediate effect on mood as they penetrate the brain via the olfactory route. Although essential oils are short acting they can assist relaxation and deepen restful sleep. Some favourites include the high floral notes from the citrus family including Bergamot and Petitgrain while essential oil of Clary Sage has a respected place in therapy.
- Vitamin D conversion starts in the skin but is completed in the liver. Natural healers will always focus on this vital organ when treating mild to moderate depression. You can read more about this in a free download of Jill Davies’ book “The Complete Home Guide to Herbs, Natural Healing and Nutrition”.
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