Supporting Your Body Through the Winter Blues

by Kelsey Ellis

There is no shortage of people who step into my office this time of year who are experiencing the common symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) The cold, wet Vancouver weather and shortened days pushes more people indoors resulting in social withdrawal and poor exposure to fresh air and vitamin D rich sunshine. This combination of declining vitamin D levels in the body and experiencing long periods of darkness can bring on low mood and depression throughout the winter months.

Although the specific cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder remains unknown, there are large factors that come into play involving a reduction in exposure to sunlight and its effects on the body:

Your biological clock (circadian rhythm). The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset S.A.D. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression.

Serotonin levels. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that may trigger depression.

Melatonin levels. The time change and shorter days can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.

What are the symptoms of S.A.D?

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Social withdrawal
  • Low energy
  • Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping and still waking up tired
  • Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight (particularly weight gain accompanied by craving carbohydrates)
  • Feeling agitated or easily irritated
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
  • Reduced libido
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

How is S.A.D different that other forms of depression?

Seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D) is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons — S.A.D begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you’re like most people with S.A.D, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Usually you will regain your energy and experience a boost in mood when the season changes back to spring and summer. Although less commonly, people can experience the opposite pattern, in which symptoms that begin in spring or summer and improve in the fall or winter. In either case, symptoms may start out mild and become more severe as the season progresses.

How can I naturally support my body if I am experiencing S.A.D?

Consider Light Therapy. Sit or work near a device called a light therapy box. The box gives off bright light that mimics natural outdoor light and naturally boosts your body’s levels of vitamin D. In order to maximize its benefits, you must sit near the light therapy box for at least 30 minutes each day. While your eyes must be open, don’t look directly at the light box, because the bright light can damage your eyes. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions. With light therapy, most people notice an improvement in their S.A.D symptoms after a few days and experience the full antidepressant effect in about two weeks.

Get as much fresh air as possible. Go for a walk on your lunch break especially if you work indoors under artificial florescent lights for long hours. Sitting near a window can also help during work hours. Breathing in clean, fresh air can help improve oxygen levels and boost your energy.

Move your body. Moderate exercise has been shown to improve mood by boosting endorphins in the body. Aim for at least 30-60 minutes of activity each day such as walking your dog, lifting weights or yoga. Being active during the daytime, especially early in the day, may help you have more energy and feel less depressed. 

Eat foods that are rich in vitamin D. This includes wild caught fish, liver, free-range egg yolks and fortified dairy products. For clients who follow a plant-based diet, I strongly recommend supplementing with a vitamin D3 supplement (see below).

Supplement with Vitamin D3. The recommended daily allowance for vitamin D is 600IU per day. However higher doses of vitamin D3 (2500-4000IU per day) have been shown to greatly improve symptoms of S.A.D.

It is important to take the signs and symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder seriously. As with other types of depression, untreated S.A.D can worsen and lead to further problems. Working with our team of Naturopathic doctors and Nutritionist at Local Health Integrative Clinic can help you beat the winter blues. For more information, book an appointment today.

Kelsey Ellis is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, they offer appointments at Local Health Integrative Clinic on Mondays,  Wednesdays and Saturdays Click here to book an appointment with Kelsey.