Understanding & combating winter blues
If you are feeling depressed as the fall sets in, I want you to know that you are not alone. It is common to feel blue if you are living in an area where there is lack of sunlight, especially during late fall and winter. In fact, there is a name for how you are feeling. It is called seasonal affective disorder, SAD for short. In Canada, 15% of the population experience winter blues and 2% to 6% experience more severe symptoms of SAD.
Before we go any further, let’s go through the symptoms and see if you, or your loved ones, are in fact suffering from SAD. Going through the following list, see for yourself how well the description suits you or a loved one .
People suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) experience a few to all of the following symptoms, sometime between October and May:
1. Mood changes; Feeling sad, depressed or irritable:
People suffering from SAD start to feel sad or depressed as the sunlight begins to diminish, usually sometimes in the late fall. Symptoms often resolve as the sunlight returns, often in April or May. Sometimes, this sadness presents itself as apathy, crying frequently or even irritability.
2. Loss of energy and motivation:
Fatigue, lethargy and being tired all the time are just a few words to describe the experience. People suffering from SAD may experience decreased physical activity. This means it’s either harder for them to get themselves moving physically or having less motivation to do so.
3. Having trouble with sleep:
Feeling sleepy and tired more often, sleeping too much or waking up unrefreshed could all be signs that the individual is experiencing SAD.
4. Increased appetite:
Not only people with sad experience increased appetite, but also they often have increased craving for carbohydrate and sugary food.
5. Weight gain:
As a result of increased appetite and cravings, those suffering from SAD often experience weight gain during winter time.
6. Social withdrawal and loss of joy in activities:
SAD makes it harder to keep engaged in activities we once enjoyed or to keep our social life alive.
7. Winter Blues year after year:
Symptoms develop in a seasonal pattern, usually during the falls and winters in climates with severe or long winters.
8. Winter blues can be intense!
The symptoms of SAD can vary in severity from slightly being problematic, known as “winter blues,” to becoming incapacitating and becoming unable to function.
9. Like all depressive disorders, thoughts of suicide may be present.
Help is near! If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts and live in Canada, please click on Suicide prevention and support hotline link and connect with help through calling, texting, or chatting.
What happens to us when we lack sunlight?
All living beings need the sunlight to survive. Plants take the sunlight as their energy source to grow. Some animals consume plants and yet others consume those who fed on plants.
But the need for the sun goes far beyond the feeding needs. Not only the sun feeds us, but also it affects us physiologically and energetically. The sun gives us the energetic reservoir that goes beyond the physical realm and well into the spiritual realm. Let’s explore this part by part.
We are affected physiologically when we are lacking sun
1. Low sunlight causes low Serotonin production:
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for balancing our mood. Serotonin is directly related to the light. As the sunlight diminishes in the fall, the level of serotonin falls in many individuals. Low serotonin is well-known to cause depression.
2. Vitamin D deficiency:
Vitamin D is one of the essential vitamins in our bodies. Not only vitamin D is essential for our bone health, but also it plays a role in our mood and sense of wellbeing. Our bodies naturally produce vitamin D, but the vitamin D our bodies produces is inactive, meaning it cannot get to work. For vitamin D to become activated, we need the sunlight touching our skins. Once we are under the sun, our skins begin to transform the inactive vitamin D to its active form, called vitamin D3. When we lack sunlight, we become vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency have been associated with low serotonin production and depressive mood.
3. Overproduction of melatonin:
Melatonin is an important hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain at night, contributing to our circadian rhythm, meaning our sleeping and wakeful cycle. In prolonged lack of sunlight, our bodies begin to overproduce melatonin. This may lead to lethargy, sleepiness, fatigue or just having a harder time staying active during the winter time.
We are affected energetically when we lack the sun.
We are light beings seeking light and even if we are not aware of it, the lack of sun has a toll on our mood and sense of wellbeing. As we are light beings experiencing a human life, no wonder if we are affected by those long and gray falls and winters.
There is more to the story, but let’s now focus on the solutions that may help you feel better until the sun returns with more presence.
Supplements that can help SAD
As mentioned above, we are very likely to be deficient in vitamin D during gray fall and winter times. Supplementing with vitamin D3 is a great way to support our health and sense of wellbeing.
L-Tryptophan or 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP):
Both Tryptophan and 5HTP act as the raw material for serotonin to be made which make it easier for the body to produce serotonin. Low serotonin is found in depression, including seasonal affective disorder. Clinical studies have found supplementation with tryptophan or 5HTP to prove beneficial in treating SAD.
Griffonia by Thorne is a great source of 5HTP. See below for more details.
*If you are on antidepressants, consult your healthcare provider before taking tryptophan or 5HTP.
Vitamin B complex is known to help with energy production and combatting the effects of stress on the body. A vitamin B supplement can be a great addition to support us during the winter blues. A supplement with vitamin B6 is especially beneficial in combatting the physiological stress of low sunlight.
Rhodiola is an excellent adaptogen, buffering the effect of stress on the body and providing strength to go through the prolonged hard periods.
Vitamin C helps the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin. It also helps the adrenal glands during prolonged stressful times.
Other complex supplements that may help with mood:
Mood Plus supplement is a comprehensive combination of various plants and vitamins, including 5HTP, Rhodiola, Siberian ginseng (another great adaptogen), vitamin C, vitamin B6, B12, and more. It can act as a comprehensive supplement for those needing support for winter blues.
* Mood Plus contains GABA which has a calming effect but also it can cause drowsiness and should not be used for long period of time. Please visit the product’s page and look under “More” for more details.
Griffonia supplement contains both 5HTP and vitamin B6, making it an excellent support during the winter blues or SAD.
Overwhelmed with what supplements to choose?
If you are overwhelmed, it’s often a good idea to step back and start simple. For instance, you could begin with vitamin D and B complex supplements and go from there. Also, it’s a good idea to seek professional advice from your healthcare provider if you’re not sure what suits you best.
What else can you do?
Practice light meditation:
Meditation, especially light meditation, is a great way to connect back to ourselves so we can go through the gray time until the light returns again. We are all light beings and by meditating on the light, we can connect to the light and begin uplifting our mood and spirit.
Don’t miss the sunny days!
Try to take advantage of sunny days and get under the sun, as long as it’s not too cold.
May light be always with you.
Dr. Rasa, ND., BSc.
- Gaby A.R. “Nutritional Medicine.” 1st ed.
- Melrose S. “Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview of Assessment and Treatment Approaches.” Hindawi Publishing Corporation. Depression Research and Treatment. V 2015, Article ID 178564
- The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy, 2011, 19th ed.