As the winter season begins with a bit of holiday cheer, many people feel a little “off” or "down”. People question themselves - “Is there something wrong with me?” “Why am I so unhappy?” Often, their bodies are just responding to the darker and colder days. This type of depression may be classified as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
What is the reason behind SAD?
We are governed by circadian rhythms, our body’s natural clock that helps regulate important functions, including sleep/wake cycles and mood. These rhythms shift during the onset of the winter season. Daytime gets shorter, reducing exposure to sunlight, yet our hectic schedules are unchanged and require us to keep going. This shift, depending on various factors namely genetics and body chemistry – affect mental health and could, in turn, have an impact on physical health creating a sense of sluggishness.
It is also believed that a drop in serotonin in the body, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects our mood patterns, plays a vital role in SAD. There is also an imbalance of Melatonin levels in the body.
General guidelines to Maintain wellness in this season
Exercise - make a habit of exercising at least 30 minutes daily, this might help your body release endorphins, which are considered to be your natural “happy hormones.”
Nutritious food – Consume fruits and vegetables for optimal health. Challenges arise during the holidays or when you are on travel to eat healthily but try to be on a balanced diet.
Practising yoga, mindfulness, meditation, maintaining social groups or support systems are other ways of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Sleep and SAD
Those affected withSADare more likely to be night owls and they would experience either “long” or “short” sleep, where sleep patterns range either more than 9 hours or fewer than 6. They may suffer from either hypersomnia, insomnia or both, although hypersomnia is much more common affecting as many as 80% of people with SAD. The practise of Yoga could help in hypersomnia cases to balance this abnormal situation and practice of Yoga Nidra or Yogic Sleep could be useful in case of insomniac conditions.
Enlighten the Mind through Light therapy
Light therapy or phototherapy is a way to treat SAD and certain other conditions by exposure to artificial lights. During light therapy, you sit or work near a device called a light therapy box. The box gives off bright light that mimics natural outdoor light and helps keep you warm too.
However, artificial light therapy cannot be a substitute for a natural one. Light therapy is only a consolation factor whenever you don’t have an option to source natural sunlight or whenever the sun doesn’t appear on the skies due to smog or fog. Naturopaths always encourage the use of a natural source of sunlight and no other source is really a good alternative.
Mending the mind through Yoga
Research has shown that various practices in Yoga have beneficial effects to alleviate depression of the mind. Suryanamaskar and simple warming exercises along with simple some basic asanas could boost up your mind. Some asanas like Balasana or child pose, Sethubandhasana or bridge pose, Urdha mukta svanasana or Upward face dog pose, Adho mukho svanasana or Downward face dog pose, Halasana or Plow pose, Uttanasana or Standing Forward fold pose, Savasana or Corpse pose are found to be beneficial to boost up the activity of the mind.
Meditation has shown that it could improve symptoms in people those suffering from depression and anxiety and it could have similar effects in the treatment of SAD as well. The practice of Meditation even for a short duration of the 10-minute session every other day will definitely have a beneficial effect on the body and mind. If some people find it difficult to practice it due to unwanted thoughts, guided meditation could help them to streamline their thought processes and also control the mind.
Boost up the mind with leisure activities
Engage your mind with leisure activities like travel, gardening, pets, visiting friends or taking a quiet stroll in a park, or even closing your eyes to focus on listening to your favourite song.
Keeping in touch with your family, friends, and other caring people in your life strengthens your sense of community and provides you with a strong support system to call on when you feel down.
When to seek medical attention
This kind of depression may come during any season and although some people might think that this might be a temporary condition, it is important to differentiate a severe or chronic depression and see your doctor at the right time. Some of these symptoms could be signs of depression:
Depressed or low mood that prevails most of the day
A decrease in interest or pleasure in activities that you have enjoyed doing in the past
Difficulty in sleeping during the night or sleeping more than normal during the day
Either moving slower or feeling more active than normal during the day
A feeling of tiredness and less energetic
Feeling worthless or excessively guilty to the thing that is not a reality
Difficulty in concentrating on any work
Abnormal thoughts of death, suicide, or harming others
Though Natural therapies are the best ways of healing oneself, one should be aware of this condition. If you notice that you suffer from these symptoms almost every day during the week, or have thoughts of harming yourself or others, it must be advised to seek medical support. The best way is to reach out to supportive people in your life. Supportive therapy complemented with natural therapies could be more qualitatively beneficial to manage this condition.
(About Dr. Sangeeth Somanadhapai: I am a Naturopath, academician and stress management trainer with 20 years of experience at various levels, private and government projects.)
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