Seasonal Depression: The Winter Blues

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IMG 0873 - Uncategorized

Seasonal Depression: The Winter Blues

In came the Christmas cheer, the white snow and family feasts. Then comes New Years, enhanced by gold accents and a special countdown that signifies another new beginning!

3..2..1..

Yes, it’s winter, again.

Beyond the grand festivities and cheerful nature of what the holidays should be, some of us loathe the very sight of winter as it begins to linger in. Perhaps it’s the shortening of days, the absence of sun or the pushy narrative that we should feel joyous — whatever it is, you are most certainly not the only one counting down the days until spring. 

Seasonal Depression, otherwise known as SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a form of depression triggered by the changing of seasons. Most commonly attributed to winter, many can feel the symptoms of SAD around the beginning of fall. Depending on where you reside, we can usually foresee proper spring in early April. Our long cold season in Canada can make it feel like half of our year is disrupted by the rash torment of winter, causing these heightened symptoms of Winter Depression to feel endless. 

Here are some commonly noted symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder:

  • Excessive fatigue
  • Lack of concentration
  • Lack of enjoyment in usual activities
  • Weight fluctuations
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety

And the list may go on… Depression as we know it is a complex disorder with many variables, which is why finding one way to solve it is never simple, even for the experts. From what we do know, when it comes to SAD in specific, there may be some ways of relief worth trying if you feel compelled to do so. Of course, we cannot reach towards the sky and take back our rightful sun, but there may be some things on ground we can do to give ourselves the best running chance at surviving this winter season. 

As someone who deals with SAD every winter season, these tips and tricks can surely make a positive impact on some common SAD symptoms. Some days simply getting out of bed can feel impossible, but on the days you can, trying small changes give the possibility of creating a stronger impact than you’d imagine. 

1. The Power of Vitamin D

If you’ve ever been in a fit for change and have reached out to our favorite search engine doctor (Google) for some help with SAD, you probably have some Vitamin D pills hanging around the house already. Vitamin D is normally acquired naturally through both food intake and sunlight. As we know, the sun and winter do not always see eye to eye in the gloomy months. Because of the lack of proper sunlight allotted to us, experts can figure a lack of Vitamin D may be contributing to the already negative symptoms of winter-triggered depression. Even when we do get a day of sunlight, the temperature is normally frigid enough to keep us inside. What also ties into this, and is equally as important for achieving healthy levels of Vitamin D, is diet. I don’t know about the rest of you but when I suffer a bad spell of SAD symptoms or any depressive symptoms for that matter, staying on top of a healthy diet can be the least of my already minimal priorities. So, although you can normally achieve healthy Vitamin D levels without supplementation, the winter can prove a different challenge. One study found substantial mood improvement when subjects with Winter Depression were given 400 IU to 800 IU of Vitamin D for 5 consecutive days. With that said, including a dose of high-quality Vitamin D in your morning regimen is likely to do no harm and is most definitely worth a try if you feel as though your sun exposure and/or diet is lacking. 

2. The Importance of Diet

Although we already touched on the difficulties of diet maintenance in SAD months, there is no getting around the fact that a nutrient dense diet plays a major role in symptom regulation. We know that nourishing the body means nourishing the mind, so rather than cutting out your favorite comfort foods when hard times call for it, try integrating some of these Vitamin D/Omega-3 rich foods into your everyday diet. Doing so could help assist the deficiencies that may be making your Winter Depression worse. 

  • Salmon
  • Tofu
  • Mushrooms
  • Cow’s milk
  • Soy milk
  • Fortified cereal
  • Leafy vegetables (kale, bok choy, collards)
  • Eggs
  • Tuna/Cod

Having a well-rounded diet definitely extends further than these foods alone, but keeping a high protein, complex carbohydrate based diet seems to be the best diet structure for avoiding worsened negative effects in both seasonal and regular depression. 

3. Get Movin’

Now hang on, I’m not about to go on a tangent about hefty exercise as a cure for depression. For some that could very well be an oxymoron in itself. What I’m really talking about is low-impact exercises that are simply meant to get the body’s rhythm in check, for both better sleep and better brain health.  Walking is normally a great option for low-impact exercise that is full of benefits and manageable for most routines, but because we’re talking about winter here, walking outside might not be the most attractive option in -20 weather. So if you’re going to save the walking for spring, locating a treadmill or elliptical at a local gym can surely get you the moving benefits of walking in a more comfortable climate. Don’t wanna leave the house quite yet? No worries. The internet is a very accessible place full of generous instructors willing to showcase different yoga/low-impact cardio exercises you can do from the comfort of your bedroom with nothing but the help of a rubber mat. Even if it’s just for 20 minutes each day, your body will thank you for the movement. Some benefits of low-impact exercise on a common basis can look like anxiety reduction, mood regulation, heightened energy, enhanced focus, and lowered stress. So just take it slow, don’t push yourself too hard, and simply get the body moving. Soon you will get to watch the benefits flourish because of it. 

4. Mushroom Magic

You know we couldn’t leave out our favorite subject, I mean with all the benefits it can bring for relieving symptoms of depression, why would we? We’ve done a lot of talking about psiolocybin’s impactful interactions with serotonin, but here’s a quick recap. Psilocybin stimulates serotonin receptors in the central nervous system, receptors responsible for virtually all forms of brain function. Inadequate levels of serotonin remain very prominent in depression, whereas normal levels of serotonin account for focus, mood, calmness and more. Psilocybin may also make a direct impact on the amygdala, whose main job is to regulate emotions such as fear and aggression. The amygdala is very important as it coordinates our emotional response to things in our environment. Psilocybin has been said to decrease the strength of the amygdala temporarily, improving positive emotional response while lessening the negative such as anger and fear, making us more open and responsive to positive change.  Giving microdosing a go with proper scheduling such as the Fadiman protocol or Stamet’s Stack might host the ability to not only create positive feelings and decrease depression symptoms, but also get the body in a form of routine that may assist with drive and focus during the difficult months. 

Magic mushrooms not your thing? Adaptogenic mushrooms are a great way to assist in depression/anxiety in an also effective manner. Adaptogenic mushrooms such as Reishi, Lion’s Mane, and Cordyceps work by reducing the negative effects of stress on the body, resulting in lowered stress, heightened brain function and increased stability in the body. Although research is still limited, experts say many mushrooms have shown adaptogenic properties. Therefore, non-psychoactive mushrooms can very well be worth a shot if you’re looking for an all-natural approach towards mood-improvement and decreased stress in hopes of relieving symptoms of SAD. 

5. Grounding Work

Depression can feel very isolating, and the numbness of this isolation can cause feelings of dissociation and feelings of detachment in both social settings and everyday tasks. Bringing the attention back to oneself and practicing grounding methods can help us sustain comfortability in both isolated and public settings, so that we can slowly get back into regular life with less anxiety and more calm. Meditation is surely one of the most effective means of grounding. It can be easily integrated into daily life without requiring much energy, making it a perfect mood-boosting practice for those suffering the debilitating effects of SAD. For beginners, meditation can be easily approached through guided meditations that can be found on Youtube or Spotify. Try adding a 5 minute guided meditation in the morning and a 10 minute guided meditation before bed, and slowly you should be able to not only notice the incredible benefits of the practice– but also become more skilled at entering the deeper states of meditation with ease. If you dare to kick the grounding practices up a notch for even further benefits, keeping a journal where you can jot down your thoughts and feelings can be a simple, yet effective way to keep grounded all year round. You can start by aiming to write a small page a day, about any negative/positive feelings you’ve had throughout the day, without worrying about the writing quality. Therapeutic journaling has been said to bring calming qualities, improve psychological wellbeing, and reduce intrusive thoughts.The conjunction of both journaling and meditation in consistent quantities is truly an incredibly sustainable practice worth trying if you are struggling with heightened stress, negative thought-patterns, and combative sadness heightened by cold season. 

Conclusion: 

The single most important thing worth understanding is that you are never alone in the fight against Seasonal Affective Disorder. The negative qualities associated with this disorder are common ailments that many must find ways to cope with upon the gloom-laden stages of winter. Seeking advice from a professional such as a doctor or therapist should be implemented when needed in order to make sure your disorder is being handled safely and effectively. Seasonal Depression for many is temporary. So although it might feel endless while you’re in it, there is always light at the end of the tunnel. Stay safe, stay grounded and don’t be afraid to try new things, it might just be worth it. 

Sincerely,

Olive

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