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Are the winter blues getting you down this year? We’re in the thick of winter, the days are shorter, the air is colder, and the sun peeks out for less time than our minds and bodies would prefer. If you notice when the seasons shift from autumn into winter, that you start to feel a bit down in the dumps, know you’re not alone. After the holidays life slows down a bit. You may find yourself feeling sleepy, sluggish, and unmotivated. We settle back into reality and sometimes this leads us to the throes of seasonal affective disorder. But have no fear, there are natural cures for seasonal depression!
Surprisingly, the winter blues, AKA Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), is a real thing. And, it’s actually quite common. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Seasonal affective disorder symptoms appear during late fall or early winter and go away during the sunnier days of spring and summer.” If the winter blues are getting the best of you this year, you certainly are not the only one!
Common symptoms of the winter blues include:
Once the colder months pass, you’ll probably notice these symptoms quickly disappear. But, that doesn’t mean you should ignore these symptoms while you’re experiencing them. If you struggle with any of these symptoms of the winter blues, don’t just shrug it off.
The symptoms are very similar to typical depression. All forms of depression, including SAD, are very real and serious. It’s important to recognize the symptoms, take measures to combat SAD, and if needed, seek professional treatment. Contact a primary care physician or counselor if you experience feelings of hopelessness or develop suicidal thoughts.
Addressing these signs is essential so that you can enjoy a joyful, happy, and vibrant season. And there’s good news: combating the winter blues may be easier than you think! There are many natural ways to fight seasonal affective disorder, and before you know it, you’ll be back to feeling like yourself again.
Studies haven’t quite confirmed the exact cause of seasonal affective disorder. However, there are several theories that attempt to explain why it affects people each year. While the exact causes are unknown, seasonal affective disorder appears to be connected to how the decrease in sunlight affects your body’s circadian rhythms. Less natural light makes it harder for your body to regulate factors like your mood and appetite. Lack of sunlight leads your body to create less serotonin. And comparatively, because of the increase in darkness, your body creates too much melatonin. This is a hormone that makes you sleepy. This is correlated with your brain’s production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood. Typically, these mood and mental changes begin when seasons change, you spend less time outdoors, and the days have earlier sunsets.
It’s important to fight against rather than feed the symptoms and causes of the winter blues. Seasonal affective disorder moves people toward isolation and inactivity. To prevent and combat the illness, it is important to act the opposite of the emotion and get ahead by addressing the causes.
Vitamin D may just be your secret weapon to fighting off winter blues this year. I prefer to see my clients’ levels around 60-70ng/mL. Unfortunately, Vitamin D deficiency is common during the winter season due to the cold, cloudy weather. However, this essential vitamin has been shown to elevate mood any time of year by warding off depression and alleviating feelings of anxiety.
So, what is the best way to get your daily dose of vitamin D? You can get a boost of vitamin D through food, sunlight, and supplementation.
Food sources with the highest amounts of vitamin D, include:
While vitamin D-rich foods are an important part of a balanced diet, exposure to natural sunlight is arguably more effective in fighting the winter blues. Simply spending 10-20 minutes in the sun daily can boost your mood, kick feelings of depression, and naturally replenish vitamin D stores. And please note— the weather does not need to be sunny and warm for this to be effective. I’d argue that getting outside is even more important during the winter months. Bundle up in a jacket and scarf and breathe in some fresh air daily.
You are at increased risk of vitamin B12 deficiency if you’ve been diagnosed with an autoimmune condition such as Crohn’s or Celiac disease. This is because autoimmune conditions such as these can affect the way your body absorbs nutrients.
Studies show one possible connection to depression and seasonal affective disorder is the effect of vitamin B-12 on the levels of serotonin in your brain and low levels of serotonin are linked to depression. Vitamin B-12 is also known as the energy vitamin. It helps keep your immune system healthy and your brain functioning efficiently. Some of the symptoms of a B-12 deficiency are actually similar to those of depression, which can make it difficult to differentiate a vitamin deficiency from symptoms of depression.
I recommend utilizing functional medicine testing to determine whether you are vitamin deficient and whether any deficiencies could be contributing to seasonal affective disorder. Testing is the best way to inform a protocol specific to you. Vitamin B12 could be the answer!
You can actually mimic the sun’s light with a special kind of lamp or light box! Light lamp therapy can be extremely beneficial if natural sunlight is scarce or limited. Light lamp therapy works by activating the hypothalamus to help regulate your circadian rhythm and maintain a balance of serotonin production in the body.
The power of light is real! Reaping the benefits of light lamp therapy only requires 20-30 minutes a day. The special “light box” used for this therapy provides light that is about 100 times brighter than traditional indoor lighting. It’s best to sit in front of your light box first thing in the morning. This treatment is effective in 60 to 90 percent of cases with very few side effects. Most people see improvement within one or two weeks of beginning treatment.
You’re telling me that a blanket can combat winter blues? Actually, yes! But, gravity blankets are not your average blanket.
These weighted blankets relieve anxiety by providing therapeutic pressure to the body. It provides the perfect amount of gentle pressure. It’s so comforting and feels like a hug! By using a gravity blanket, your body naturally releases more serotonin and oxytocin, also known as the feel-good-hormones. It also increases melatonin (a sleep hormone). Sleeping with a gravity blanket at night can improve sleep, resulting in a better mood during the day.
I love Mosaic brand weighted blankets because they’re made with hypoallergenic BPA free pellets and they’re really well made, which means they’ll last a long time! If you’ve been feeling a little more stressed or anxious than usual or having trouble falling asleep, I highly recommend you try one out!
Try your best to maintain a consistent schedule, especially when it comes to sleep. It may seem basic, but it’s worth emphasizing. It’s crucial for people experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder to follow a routine sleep schedule, going to bed around the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning. Aim for a time that works best for you and your lifestyle. Ideally, our body responds best when we go to bed at 10pm and wake at 6am.
This will help regulate your circadian rhythm which will in turn regulate your serotonin and melatonin levels. Circadian rhythms are physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle. These natural processes respond primarily to light and dark and help regulate areas in our body such as our hormones, digestion, and temperature.
Exercise boosts endorphins in the body, which naturally improves mood. If possible, strive for 20-30 minutes of outdoor activity every day to get your daily dose of vitamin D as well.
However, if outdoor activity is not possible, indoor exercise is effective too. Outdoor exercise can be challenging during the winter months, but it’s important to keep moving- even if that means exercising indoors. By regularly moving your body, you can improve blood flow, reduce stress, sleep better, and increase mental resilience.
I recommend simply walking! Walking is actually one of the best forms of movement you can do to help reduce inflammation and restore balance in the body. We often sit for so long all day working, especially if you work a desk job. I recommend aiming for 10,000 steps per day. This includes activities like cleaning the house, taking the stairs, grocery shopping, and walking to do daily tasks or errands. I also like to schedule breaks to take outdoor walks during the day.
The brain-gut axis is a strong connection. The gut is also known as the second brain, or enteric nervous system. The gut actually produces more than thirty neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine! 90% of serotonin and 50% of dopamine are produced in the gut. Intestinal serotonin is able to influence mood, appetite, sleep, and brain function. This is why an imbalanced microbiome increases the risk of mental illness, like depression and anxiety.
When you heal your gut, you can also heal your mind. It really is all connected! To start your gut healing journey, apply to work with me here! We use quality functional medicine testing and a proven 7 step system to heal your microbiome from the inside out!
If you’re affected by the winter blues this year, there is hope for restoring your energy and positive mood. By implementing these simple natural cures for seasonal depression, you can kiss the winter blues good-bye and get back to the hustle and bustle of the season!
And remember— depression is a serious medical condition that can affect everything you do. While these natural remedies are usually effective, it’s important to work with your doctor to come up with a holistic treatment plan that works for you.
Have you tried any of these natural cures for seasonal depression? Or do you have another favorite tip or trick? Be sure to share in the comments below!
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