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If you’re living in a state that’s currently doing any sort of winter huffing and puffing — whether that means all-out daily blizzards or just a dip in the thermometer every few days — you may experience an occasional case of the blues. You may have in the past attributed this feeling to having to shovel your drive way in freezing temps or from a lack of a chance to drink your morning coffee in the warm sunshine, but did you know that some experts say it could actually be something more serious, such as a condition called seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?
Sometimes also known as “winter depression,” SAD is a mood disorder that can spring up in people who have otherwise “normal” mental health throughout the rest of the year. Even though mental health experts are occasionally skeptical of SAD, it’s been noted by the U.S. National Library of Medicine that “some people experience a serious mood change when the seasons change. They may sleep too much, have little energy, and may also feel depressed.”
So, there’s the bad news.
But now, for the good news — if you feel like something just isn’t feeling quite right with you during the cooler months, it does usually pass. The U.S. National Library of Medicine also notes that “though symptoms can be severe, they usually clear up.”
And if you want to avoid SAD altogether? What can you do to avoid the symptoms of SAD while you wait for the snow storms to pass?
More good news here: there’s a whole lot you can do to combat the symptoms of SAD, or whatever valleys in your mood you may experience over the winter, no matter what you term them. While some medical practitioners may prescribe medication, in many cases, the symptoms of mild cases of SAD can be treatable by other actions, no prescription required. And, here at One Green Planet, we’re all about finding ways to more naturally live life, so here are a few tips to make your winter months the happiest they can be, no medication needed (quick note: be safe, though, Green Monsters. Keep in mind that each and every case is different, and you should see your doctor if you feel you are having more serious or consistent depression issues.)
1. Get more sunshine (or make some of your own).
A common treatment for SAD is light therapy. First off, ignore your desire to hibernate completely. Pull up those blinds during the day if you’re at home or in the office. Also, go outside. Take a quick outdoor walk mid-day, when temps are typically at their warmest. And get out of that office for lunch, even it’s just for 10 minutes (though many experts note that 30 minutes of light per day is ideal for treating SAD, so go out three times for 10 minutes if you can). If that’s not possible or there’s just no sunshine to be found, you might consider investing in a light therapy machine.
2. Get moving…even more.
We all know that exercise is good for us year-round, but it may be even more important to get those exercise endorphins when the cool weather comes ‘round. According to researchers, “Physical exercise has shown to be an effective form of depression therapy, particularly when added on in addition to another form of treatment for SAD.” Even if it’s the very last thing you want to do, go on that run or get in that gym or yoga studio – wherever you need to be to get your body sweating. If the thought of going out in the snow and/or freezing temps for one more thing sounds just plain awful, consider picking up a cheap used exercise bike or treadmill on Craigslist for the winter months. No matter how you get your exercise in, your mental health just may be counting on it.
3. Keep caffeine intake lower than usual.
Step away from that coffee, people. While you think that may be just the thing you need to get moving and to be your jolly old self again, it can give you a quick boost and then take you right back down again, leaving you with more anxiety and tension than before. Coffee also suppresses serotonin, which, as we’ll note again in number six, is something you need for you to feel your best. If you need something warm to sip on, consider herbal caffeine-free teas or hot water with a splash of lemon juice, orange juice, or even peppermint oil. These zingy flavors can get you going again without the crash later.
4. Take a (naturally) scented bath.
Ok, any time is a good time for a bath – what’s not to love? Warm, soothing water cuddling your body? The stillness of water surrounding you? Yes, please! But step it up a notch and add some natural essential oils to your bath water, and you’ve got yourself one killer SAD treatment. The University of Maryland suggests that “several essential oils — including lavender, rose, orange, bergamot, lemon, sandalwood, and others — have been shown to relieve anxiety, stress, and depression.” Splash some in to your bath water and breath deeply, Green Monsters. Repeat once a week or more if you can find the time (and who doesn’t have time for mental health?)
5. Get yourself a new pet.
Okay, you don’t need to get a new dog or cat (though now is a great time to adopt if you’ve been considering it, as pet ownership can boost your feelings of well-being year-round). What I’m suggesting here requires a little less of an investment: houseplants! Not only does filling your home with a little more live green brighten the space and clean the air, it can truly brighten your mood: “It might sound silly, but house plants can be one of the best treatments for seasonal affective disorder!” says Juniper Russo in an article about holistic treatments for SAD. “It’s no coincidence that, for hundreds of years, people have been bringing evergreen trees, holly boughs, mistletoe, and wreaths into their homes during the grayest parts of the year. We have a very primal need to see living, verdant foliage: without it, we feel lost, sad, and hopeless. Go on a shopping spree and find some bright, colorful plants to fill your home. You may be amazed by how much better you feel when you’re seeing greenery every day!”
6. Eat some plants.
It wouldn’t be One Green Planet if we didn’t advise you to eat more plants, now would it? In the winter months, many of us crave carbs – and for good reason. According to Discovery Health and Wellness, “The carbohydrate craving common in people with this disorder is thought to be caused by decreased levels of the brain neurotransmitter serotonin.” So, what to do? Take in more serotonin. Fruits such as apricots, apples, pears, grapes, grapefruits, oranges, and plums will get you there. WebMD notes that “four cups of brightly colored veggies a day” will also help. A little plant power for the win, Green Monsters!
These are just a start on the natural ways you can treat the symptoms of SAD (or the occasional bout of just plain old sad-ness) during the dark and cold winter months – no doctor’s visit or prescription necessary (once again, a reminder: if it feels more serious, do consult a doctor you trust!) Do you have any effective tips for naturally treating the winter blues? Let us know in the comments below!
Image Source: Tela Chhe/Flickr