Posted on by Paula Gallagher
Today is known as Blue Monday, because it is supposed to be the saddest day of the year. After the high of the of the holiday season, credit card statements start rolling in and the struggle to complete those New Year's resolutions combines with long, dark and gloomy winter days, and you have a recipe for the “blues.”
Blue Monday, which falls on the third Monday in January, sits right in the middle of this January depression. In fact, it's supposed to be one day of the year when people feel the most depressed.
For many, the winter blues aren't just limited to one day. SAD, or seasonal affective disorder, is a type of depression that affects people in the winter months because of the darkness from shorter days and grayer skies. Less natural sunlight, together with shorter days and colder weather, can really affect your mood. It has been estimated that as many as 9% of U.S. adults experience symptoms of SAD. It is more common in women than men, and in the north than the south.
Symptoms of SAD can be low energy, anxiety attacks, weight gain, sleeping too much, and decreased libido, all of which typically begin in the late fall and alleviate in the spring.
What Can Help?
Here is the good news. People with SAD often respond very well to light therapy (phototherapy) and vitamin D supplementation, as well as other forms of natural medicine. Be sure to talk to your doctor about symptoms you are experiencing, for a proper diagnosis.
Start taking a vitamin D supplement now. Even better, have your levels assessed at your doctor's office using a simple blood test known as serum 25OHD. Vitamin D3 is now known to be useful for not only bone health, but also immune system health, inflammation, against all forms of cancer, and of course mood.
People with SAD have higher levels of melatonin, the brain chemical that induces sleep. Light therapy is helpful for SAD because full-spectrum lighting regulates the production of melatonin. Melatonin regulates daily patterns. Full-spectrum light bulbs and light boxes are available to help supplement the amount of light you're getting, especially in the darker months.
Regular Outdoor Exercise
Don't let the cold stop you. Dress appropriately and enjoy the outdoors. Snowshoeing, skiing, skating, making snowmen and other outdoor activities expose you to some sun and get you moving. Just going for a daily walk is a great thing to do.
Go to bed at the same time every night and wake up around the same time every morning. Establishing good sleep habits is very important to feeling rested.
Enjoyable Mental Activities
Read a challenging book (or any book!), do a crossword puzzle, or play scrabble! Or how about Wordle or Sudoku?
Deal With Stress in Positive Ways
For instance, being social can lift your spirits. The key is to get your attention and thoughts away from yourself. Go for a walk with a friend, share your feelings and don't keep things bottled up.
Treating SAD nutritionally begins by an assessment of nutritional status and toxin levels. Nutritional deficiencies can alter the functioning of the nervous system. B vitamins are known as the "stress vitamins." Taking a complete B-complex formula can help both your brain and your adrenal glands function effectively; the adrenal glands produce hormones that enable our bodies to fight stress. B vitamins are also needed to optimize neurotransmitter production – in particular, vitamin B6. Stable blood sugar levels can also play a role in maintaining a positive mood because fluctuations can aggravate SAD. Avoid caffeinated drinks, alcohol, tobacco, saturated fats, artificial sweeteners, wheat, refined flour products, refined sugar products, and any foods for which you have a sensitivity. Eat a whole foods diet, including fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains (especially oats) and nutritional yeast.
If you continue to experience “down days” at the same time every year, or they persist for days at a time, please see your doctor or health care provider. It’s important that we all look after our mental health and well-being.
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