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Do you dread the long dark evenings? Can you feel your mood plummet as the clock ticks away and the days become shorter and shorter?
If so, you’re not alone. Read on to discover how to naturally help to prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder.
SAD, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, is a type of depression experienced when there is a lack of natural light in the autumn and winter. As well as low mood, you might feel tired yet unable to drop off to sleep, have difficulties concentrating and be tempted to binge on starchy foods. You may feel like you can’t be bothered to do anything, and your brain is full of fog.
Although many people feel like this from time to time, what’s important is the pattern of symptoms, which mirror the shorter darker days of winter. In most cases, symptoms abate once the longer brighter days of spring and summer arrive.
The amount of natural light you are exposed to actually alters your brain chemistry. Science has found that sunlight stimulates the release of the ‘happy’ neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. So, less daylight means fewer feel-good chemicals.
On the other hand, darkness causes the release of a different brain chemical, melatonin. This regulates your circadian rhythm, making you sleepy in readiness for bedtime. In some people this system goes awry, and not enough melatonin is produced, making it hard for them to drop off to sleep. This often happens if you tend to look at screens during the evening, as the blue light they emit suppresses melatonin production. But the shorter days of winter can also knock out your natural circadian rhythm, causing excessive sleepiness or in other cases meaning you can’t sleep at night.
The Functional Medicine approach to combatting low mood is simple. The aim is to correct imbalances in your body’s systems and so allow your body to heal. These might be nutrient deficiencies, hormone imbalances, or lifestyle habits that don’t align with your body. Functional tests are useful to discover where these imbalances are occurring in your body. They will be unique to you because you are different to anyone else.
Once imbalances are detected, the aim will be to remove factors contributing to them, like inflammation-promoting foods or stressful lifestyle habits. At the same time, strategies will be added in to help your body to heal.
Let’s have a look at some factors associated with low mood.
Vitamin D, known as the sunshine vitamin, is in short supply during the winter. This is because it’s made by your skin when you’re exposed to sunlight.
Omega 3 is vital to help your brain cells communicate with one another. Many people find supplementing omega 3 from fish oil in the winter months can be helpful in cases of low mood. Try eating oily fish like salmon and mackerel and seeds like flax, chia and pumpkin seeds, too.
B vitamins, especially vitamin B6, are crucial for making your brain’s feelgood chemicals.
Your gut and your brain have a hotline to each other, and the functioning of your gut is a major contributor to your mood. If you have an unfriendly population of bacteria living in your gut, these can literally send out mood-lowering signals to your brain.
Although it can be tempting to sit on the sofa all day when you’re feeling down, moving your body is crucial. Even a simple 10-minute walk, preferably outside in natural daylight, has been shown in research to boost mood and help you to think more clearly. If you find it hard to motivate yourself to go out, enlist an accountability partner and walk together.
If you can walk out into nature so much the better, even if it’s just out into a park or your garden. This is because plants emit chemical compounds known to improve mood when inhaled.
To provide your pineal gland with some simulated sunlight, you might want to try a lightbox. These emit light in the full spectrum of the wavelengths of natural sunlight. It’s best to start using your lightbox before your symptoms start, as this may help nip SAD in the bud before it develops. Don’t use your lightbox in the evening – instead turn it on first thing in the morning, for around half an hour. Many people find lightboxes to be effective within a matter of days.
Of course, you could take an antidepressant which might help to elevate your mood during the winter. But this isn’t addressing the causes of why you are suffering from low mood. Although it might seem lack of light is causing your symptoms, the root causes are imbalances in your body, which combined with lack of light, create those feelings of low mood.
We will discover what these root causes are for you and help you to make the positive changes your body needs to improve your mood this winter. Click here to begin your journey.
Do you need personalised natural support for Seasonal Affective Disorder? Then book a free 15-minute discovery call to see if Functional Medicine is for you.
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