Feeling sad, low mood, tired, irritable, anxious, not interested? You may have the “winter blues” also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Other symptoms include: sugar cravings, difficulty concentrating, over sleeping, weight gain, and sometimes even suicidal thoughts.

Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that is related to the change in seasons, typically it occurs in winter but some people can also be affected at other times of seasonal change.

What causes SAD?

Although scientists don’t know the exact cause of seasonal affective disorder, the following may play a role:

  • Reduced sunlight. Winter brings the onset of less daylight which may disrupt the body’s internal clock or circadian rhythm and lead to feelings of depression.
  • Low levels of serotonin. Less sunlight may also cause a drop in serotonin, the happy hormone, which can trigger depression.
  • Reduced melatonin. The seasonal change can also cause an imbalance in the body’s melatonin, a hormone that plays a key role in sleep and mood.
  • Living far from the equator. Individuals who live far north or south of the equator appear to be more susceptible to SAD due to decreased sunlight during winter months.

Natural Treatments for SAD

There are many effective evidence based natural treatments for seasonal affective disorder including aerobic exercise, sleep hygiene, light therapy, supplements, and talk therapy.

Exercise: it may be the last thing on your mind when you’re feeling depressed but exercise releases feel good endorphins that improve your sense of well-being. It can also help you cope in a healthy way and may create opportunities to meet new people.

Sleep hygiene: having a sleep routine, being consistent, and creating a clean and dark sleep environment are just some of the simple things you can do to get a better sleep and help regulate your melatonin (the sleep hormone).

Light therapy: is received from a lamp which mimics daylight. Studies have shown it can ease depressive symptoms if used within the first hour of waking for 20-30 minutes daily.

Supplements and herbs: research has demonstrated that herbs such as St. John’s Wort and supplements such as vitamin D and fish oil (omega-3s) have anti-depressive effects on the body. It’s important to consult a healthcare provider before starting any new supplements or herbs. Many natural supplements can have negative interactions with medications or may not be safe for everyone.

Therapy: talk therapy and other specialized therapeutic techniques such as cognitive behavioural therapy are very effective when working through depression. It’s important to find a provider that is the right fit for you.  

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, reach out for help. Go to the local emergency room or call a local crisis line. The Durham Mental Health Crisis line is (905) 666-0483

About the Author

Dr. Kate Klein is a licensed naturopathic doctor and clinic director at Your Health Collective, an integrative wellness clinic located in the heart of Ajax. Dr. Klein and her team offer services including, naturopathic medicine, holistic nutrition, acupuncture, osteopathy, and psychotherapy to patients of all ages. Practitioners at Your Health Collective provide a collaborative approach to patient care through a variety of natural treatments and solutions for health concerns ranging from disordered sleep, allergies, fertility, headaches, digestive concerns, and much more. We believe that health is more than just the absence of disease; health is when we function at our best through proper nutrition, exercise, a balanced lifestyle, positive emotions, thoughts and actions. For more information about Dr. Klein, naturopathic medicine, or our clinic please visit: www.yourhealthcollective.ca