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Having the ‘Winter Blues’ is not just a saying

For many people, the New Year is a time to celebrate – to become motivated for change and positivity. For others, it’s a continuation of the low mood that has been lingering for months. The coldest month of the year can have a very negative effect on overall happiness, making healthy lifestyle choices a challenge.

Being outdoors on the sunny frigid day is one of the best ways to keep seasonal depression away.  Getting outdoors, even when you feel unmotivated, will provide your body with the much-needed sunlight and fresh air. As time goes on, the days are slowly starting to lengthen, which is another sign that spring is on the horizon! Hang in there.

What is SAD?

SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a type of winter depression which affects millions of people every winter, in particular during December, January and February. SAD is caused by a biochemical imbalance in the hypothalamus due to the shortening of daylight hours and the lack of sunlight in winter. For many people SAD is a seriously disabling illness, preventing them from functioning normally without continuous medical treatment. For others, it is a milder condition, causing discomfort, referred to as sub-syndromal SAD or winter blues. There is also a rare reverse form of SAD, known as summer SAD, where symptoms occur each summer and remit in winter.

Identifying the symptoms in yourself will help you express these challenges with the people in your life; when your support system is understanding, you can lean on these people for help.

What are the symptoms?

  • a desire to oversleep and difficulty staying awake, low energy
  • disturbed sleep and early morning awakening, agitation and inability to relax
  • feeling fatigue and an inability to carry out normal routine
  • a craving for carbohydrates and sweet foods, usually resulting in weight gain
  • feelings of misery, guilt, and loss of self-esteem, sometimes hopelessness and despair
  • sometimes apathy and loss of feelings, loss of passion for projects and people
  • an irritability and desire to avoid social contact; snappy mood
  • tension and inability to tolerate stress; short temper
  • a decreased interest in sex, intimacy, and physical contact
  • and in some sufferers, extremes of mood and short periods of hypomania (overactivity) in spring and autumn.

What are some helpful strategies to fight SAD?

If you suffer from SAD or any other mental health concerns, seeing a doctor or psychologist is incredibly important.  A mental health professional will have the experience and tools to create a wellness plan for you. When you try to stick-it-out and wait for things to resolve; your health and relationships will continue to deteriorate, it can often affect your work and create a more challenging situation in the future.

Visit your Naturopathic Doctor (ND) to discuss vitamins and supplements that will give you a natural boost.  Your diet may warrant a few improvements.  SAD can be accompanied by carbohydrate cravings and your ND can help you manage these. A desire to make poor food choices is incredibly common, it’s a coping mechanism that our body uses to ease stress and comfort or manage our emotions Extreme weight gain or weight loss could also influence self-esteem.

Light therapy – Just 30 minutes a day of phototherapy, usually upon waking, can help improve mood and energy in the winter.  Less sunlight can mean that more serotonin ends up hibernating in your neurons, causing seasonal depression. People with SAD may also have issues with overproducing melatonin during winter, a hormone released in response to darkness that causes sleepiness. Consult with your doctor before purchasing a lightbox, increasing exposure too fast or using the lightbox for too long each time may induce manic symptoms if you have other illnesses such as bipolar disorder. Do not use phototherapy if you are on photosensitive medications.

SAD Light = Medically proven Light Treatment Device designed to treat the root cause of SAD (lack of sunlight).
This will be classed by the retailer as VAT exempt (for personal use) it is a proven medical device.

Dawn Simulator = A waking device that helps the user wake gently from there sleep (some Dawn Simulators also include a Sunset facility to aid sleep). Not a medical device.

Get outside when the sun is shining!  In our climate and latitude, even sunny winter days may not be enough to combat SAD, but getting some time in the sun each day with a little exercise will do wonders for your energy levels.

Massage therapy can also help with symptoms of anxiety or insomnia that may be increased at this time of year, as well as aid symptoms of depression.

Here is how it works:  Massage works directly on the nervous system, slowing you down and allowing your parasympathetics to kick in (your rest and digest system).  Ever notice how your stomach starts to grumble during a massage and your limbs get cold?  That is your parasympathetic system in action!  Studies have suggested that massage slows the heart rate and increases peristalsis.  Evidence of this is seen by the slowed breathing, reduced heart rate, and increased abdominal sounds exhibited by patients during a massage treatment.

When the parasympathetics are allowed to do their job, the firing of the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) decreases.  Levels of cortisol are decreased and levels of serotonin and dopamine (your “feel good” hormones) are increased, resulting in a greater feeling of well-being and better rest.  However, when our bodies and minds are stressed and we are in fight or flight mode, our adrenalin and cortisol increase and we are more prone to muscle spasm, delayed healing, and digestive problems.  Needless to say, our rest is disturbed too!

This is the reason why I consider a relaxation massage to be a legitimate health treatment – not just a luxury.  Everyone has a different pressure preference and some people genuinely relax with deep pressure, but the main point is that you relax, rest, and digest!  A regular routine of treatments with a caring therapist will enhance this relaxation as you build trust and know what to expect during your treatment.  Over time you WILL reap the benefits!

Keep up the Fight Against Winter Blues and Seasonal Affective Disorder

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