Seasonal Affective Disorder’s acronym is so aptly named: S.A.D.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, “5% of adults in the U.S. experience S.A.D.” with symptoms ranging from anxiety to weight gain, sleep issues, lack of energy and full-blown depression symptoms.
When Fall and Winter months hit and it’s not only cold but dark by 4:45pm, my mind and body feel it.
I’m a sun worshiper, so adjusting to this time of year has always been tough. I also hate the feeling of being cold and holed up indoors when I want to be outside in the sunshine!
Knowing this ahead of time, I can prepare my body for an easier transition in and out of winter, and help you do the same! Being a New Yorker my whole life I have LOTS of experience. 🙂
From a Functional Nutrition and Functional Medicine perspective, some physiological imbalances that can contribute to the likelihood of feeling S.A.D. symptoms are…
-A gut/brain imbalance: if your gut microbiome isn’t in good shape, it can significantly contribute to symptoms of depression and anxiety. The gut is the second brain and affects not only your mood and energy but your immune health, skin health, and more. Gut imbalances can be caused by stress, malnutrition, food sensitivities, yeast/bacteria/parasites, and other factors.
-Low Thyroid Hormones: Thyroid levels need to be in balance or it could lead to depression, cold hands and feet, dry skin, and other symptoms that we’d naturally align with S.A.D.. Many people are now experiencing Hypothyroidism or Hashimoto's Thyroiditis (not to mention other Autoimmune conditions), so it’s vital to get your Thyroid hormones and antibodies checked with a Functional Medicine provider!
-Not getting enough sunshine outdoors: While we simply cannot make enough Vitamin D in the Northern Hemisphere, even if we are outside all day, it’s still really important that our eyes see the light of day! Take a walk outside your home first thing in the morning and before sunset so your eyes get some sunlight. This will help set your circadian rhythm up for success despite losing light early in the evening.
-Low Vitamin D: Vitamin D is crucial to preventing many illnesses and diseases, and to mental health. But as mentioned, it’s very difficult to make enough of your own from the sun. I take a high quality Vitamin D every day and get my labs checked at least yearly so my Functional Medicine provider can recommend the best dose. You want your levels higher, but most doctors will only tell you if you fall in a general reference range. Even on the lower end of the range you are not optimal.
So what are my prevention and healing measures for SAD, above and beyond checking the list above? Here are my top recommendations:
- Eat Balanced Meals- This is non-negotiable. If you aren't balancing your blood sugar through whole foods that give you energy and reduce your inflammatory load, you are doing your mind and body a huge disservice. This also sets you up to feel anxious and depressed, regardless of the change in weather! Check out my resources page where I list all my favorite grocery, meal delivery, and meal planning options.
- Get proper sleep- also a non-negotiable habit. Experiment for yourself the number of hours you need to wake up well rested. And please, stop hurting your mind and body by working against your natural circadian rhythm. Make sure your room is dark, cold, and quiet, eliminate late night blue light through television or social scrolling that sends your body into minor fight or flight, and relax instead. This is your sacred time to rest and repair each and every day. This is of utmost importance.
- Exercise daily- we don't have to work out rigorously every single day, but we do need to move our bodies daily in order to gain the major advantages to our brain. Even going for walks, stretching, and gentle yoga are great forms of movement. Do what you love and be grateful that you can move your body every day. Exercise raises endorphins, supports neurotransmitters, and has been proven to be as effective if not more than antidepressants. It's a FREE S.A.D. eliminator, so go get your sweat on!
- Meditation and Breath work- chronic stress wreaks havoc on our central nervous system, sending us into fight or flight way more than the body was built to handle. This messes with the normal, orderly function of our organs, causes a cascade of hormones over and over. This can lead to complete burnout, exhaustion, blood sugar issues/pre-diabetes, and more. Meditation and breath work are two of the most powerful stress busting tools I have in my toolkit and that I recommend to all of my clients. When you are cool, calm, and collected, you can make much better decisions for yourself, fueling your mind and body with love, compassion, and gratitude.
Please contact me if you want to work with me even further on setting up a full S.A.D. game plan in advance of winter! I'm here for you and we're in this together!