I often struggle with depression this time of year. Though it doesn’t totally knock me out, it’s still a wilting bummer that comes on seasonally. In the summer, I love gardening, swimming and, most of all, cycling. The cascade of endorphins and feel-good hormones clear the mental cobwebs and help me stay happy. Strong thighs and mental highs? A twofer!
But when it gets darker earlier, my ability to go for that end-of-day-ride slips and so does my desire to do anything. In addition, I spend a lot less time in the sun (vitamin D!) and so I need to protect myself from the winter blues. And, perhaps, so do you.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that impacts millions of people each year. It generally kicks in as the hours of daylight get shorter and can last till early spring. Apparently, 60-90% of folks with SAD are women. Guys certainly aren’t immune but us gals seem to struggle with it more.
We experience long winters here in the Catskill Mountains so it’s super important to be mindful of what my body needs amidst the snow banks—otherwise, hello cravings! Namely, simple carbs, wine and way too much TV—followed by fatigue and moodiness. Sound familiar?
Here are ten tips to help you with Seasonal Affective Disorder.
1. Make sure you’re taking vitamin D
In addition to many cancers, high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease, a vitamin D deficiency is also linked to depression. So if you’re feeling SAD, now is a good time to get your D levels tested. According to my friend Dr. Mark Hyman, you want to get tested for 25 OH vitamin D. For optimal range, you should be 100 to 160 nmol/L or 40 to 65 ng/ml. For cancer patients, it’s closer to 80.
Most integrative docs recommend at least 1,000 IU’s of vitamin D2 or D3 daily in winter months, and more (up to 5,000 IU’s) if you’re heading into winter already low. There are two types of vitamin D: D2 and D3. D2 is plant-based and D3 is almost always animal-based. Most research has shown that vitamin D3 is more efficiently absorbed compared with vitamin D2. So, you may want to choose vitamin D3 to get the most out of your supplement—this decision is totally up to you. Until recently, there were no vegan forms of D3, although, this has recently changed. Both the Vitashine and the Garden of Life brands now make vegan D3 supplements. Unfortunately, I cannot vouch for their effectiveness so you’ll need to make your own choice.
2. Up your omega-3 intake
Omega-3’s can help maintain healthy levels of the brain chemicals dopamine and serotonin (the feel good neurotransmitters) that increase happiness and reduce symptoms of depression. Vegan sources of omega-3’s include flaxseed, hemp, chia and walnuts. For more info on how to include these essential fats in your day, plus some tasty omega-filled recipe ideas, check out my healthy fats blog here.
3. Get aerobic exercise
Exercise not only improves our mood but it also reduces anxiety and stress, both of which can worsen depression. Take a spin class, do an online workout or groove to your favorite rhythm (Beyonce always cures my blues). Shoot for at least 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week. You will feel so much better if you move consistently.
4. Purchase one of those sun lamps and get a dawn simulator alarm clock
Although I haven’t tried it, I know many people who swear by light therapy. Basically, you regularly sit in front of a special light box that emits full-spectrum light similar in composition to sunlight. It’s been shown to be very effective for helping people with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Dr. Weil goes into great detail about light therapy in this article. Might be worth a shot!
Also, if you use an alarm clock that normally beeps or blares music while it’s still dark out, consider getting a dawn simulator clock which gradually increases the light in your room to wake you up more naturally.
5. Go outside anyway
Exposure to outdoor light is still important so try to get outside daily for at least 10 minutes. Yes, it’s cloudy but light still pokes through and tickles your brain through your glorious peepers. This increases both your serotonin and dopamine levels, which as I mentioned above, both play a starring role in your joy factor.
6. Leave the hermitage (and not just for dinner and drinks)
If you get that cooped up, bored feeling over the winter months, shake it up. Are there some local book readings that interest you? What about a best friend yoga retreat in warm, sunny weather? Friend time always soothes the soul and yet it’s so easy to resist reaching out when we feel like shit. Perhaps a tea date in town is all you need to shake up the day and your spirit.
7. “Warm” up your green drinks and recipe repertoire
Green juices, smoothies and salads can be less appealing when all you want is a cup of hot cocoa. But, juice can have a “warming” effect if you add a little kick to it. I like to put extra ginger in my green juice when it gets chilly outside. It promotes circulation and healthy digestion. Grab a copy of Crazy Sexy Juice for tons of warming green drink recipes, like the Spicy Sweetie juice. I also love sipping a cup of my Cashew Chai Milk by the fire on chilly evenings.
Stick to a consistent sleep schedule. Don’t miss your 8 hours of zzz’s and don’t oversleep like a teenager either. Get your cute, fully-rested ass out of bed and carpe diem. There are many ways to set yourself up for sleep success. They include a cool room, covering or removing electronic gadgets that emit light (this messes with your pineal gland and melatonin levels) and staying away from caffeine past 10 a.m. For more info, check out my 10 tips for healthy and restorative sleep here and my top 5 foods for healthy sleep here.