Natural Remedies for Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD)

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What is SAD, and why is the Pacific Northwest so prone to it?
Living in the Pacific Northwest we get plenty of fresh air and green landscape that is the envy of many of our southern western states, and what makes it so beautiful year round. Accompanying all that green, however, comes a hefty share of rain, drizzle, cold weather, and grey days that seem to linger on far into the Spring, when other parts of the country are starting to burst into sunshine.

Combine the long stretches of grey weather and no sunshine with the continued barrage of dismal and violent news lately, and you have the recipe for the “winter blues”, or for some, Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Seasonal Affective Disorder, also called SAD, is defined by the Mayo Clinic as ” a type of depression that occurs at the same time every year. If you’re like most people with seasonal affective disorder, your symptoms start in the fall and may continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Less often, seasonal affective disorder causes depression in the spring or early summer.” 

If you find yourself feeling blue on yet another overcast day, you arent alone. Interestingly, cases of SAD are rarely reported in the tropics, but is measurably present at latitudes of 30 degrees N (or S) and higher (the Pacific Northwest states of Oregon and Seattle being 45 degrees and North). Seasonal mood variations are believed to be related mostly to daylight, not temperature.

Symptoms of SAD

Winter-onset seasonal affective disorder symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Hopelessness
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of energy
  • Social withdrawal
  • Oversleeping
  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Difficulty concentrating

Natural Remedies for SAD
So what can you do to break out of the grey sky funk? According to Mayo Clinic, There are several natural remedies to treat Seasonal Depression. Here are a list of a few to try:

Supplements

  • St. John’s wort. This herb has traditionally been used to treat a variety of problems, including depression. It may be helpful if you have mild or moderate depression.
  • SAMe. This is a synthetic form of a chemical that occurs naturally in the body. SAMe hasn’t been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat depression in the United States. However, it’s used in Europe as a prescription drug to treat depression.
  • Melatonin. This natural hormone helps regulate mood. A change in the season may change the level of melatonin in your body.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements may help relieve depression symptoms and have other health benefits. Sources of omega-3s include fish such as salmon, mackerel and herring. Omega-3s are also found in certain nuts and grains and in other vegetarian sources, but it isn’t clear whether they have the same effect as fish oil.

Mind & Body Therapies

According to Massage Magazine and several clinical studies, receiving massage with the goal of releasing the structural collapse associated with depression will bring the person from a hopeless, helpless collapsed structure to one that is supported and erect. This sense of support will give the person feelings of being stronger and more capable of dealing with the issues of their depression.

Dr. Mason Turner, Chief of Psychiatry, Kaiser Permanente San Francisco, said that massage therapy can help with depression by relieving muscle tension and improving physical health, which is important to helping the body relax so the mind can relax. Massage, he said, helps with the body-mind connection, which can improve overall health and aid in stress management.

“Anything that helps the person connect their mind and body together can be helpful,” he said.

Massage Therapy and those feel-good brain chemicals
When done correctly, a massage usually provides immediate gratification. It is safe, and people often feel relaxed and calm from the time the massage begins. The National Institutes of Health, in one a recent study concluded that:, “Research supports the general conclusion that massage therapy is effective. The studies included in the analysis suggest that a single session of massage therapy can reduce ‘state anxiety’ (a reaction to a particular situation), blood pressure, and heart rate, and multiple sessions can reduce ‘trait anxiety’ (general anxiety-proneness), depression, and pain.”

No doubt, massage is a great way to reduce stress and to help heal injured or sore muscles, but one over-looked use for massage is to help treat depression. Massage does this by increasing the feel-good chemicals in our brains. The key chemical or neurotransmitter released during massage that research shows plays a major role in depression is serotonin.

It is believed that serotonin is linked to our feelings of happiness. Serotonin levels are also key to our ability to stave off anxiety and stress. It is interesting to note that many of the anti-depressants you can take for depression work similarly, by increasing serotonin levels.

Massage also does WHAT?
So if that isnt enough to make you book that next appointment on a rainy day, listen to this: Massage therapy actually CHANGES YOUR BRAIN WAVES. Yep.

This is similar to the effect that meditation brings, a feeling of calm and relaxation. The brain wave pattern that massage promotes is the alpha wave. When your brain is producing alpha waves it stimulates certain groups of nerve cells that produce certain chemicals, one of them being serotonin. And increased production of serotonin has been shown to be a factor in helping depression.

Studies done on alpha waves show that increasing the levels of alpha wave activity in the brain decreases levels of:

  • tension
  • anxiety
  • depression,dejection
  • anger/hostility
  • fatigue

The research is clear that increasing your brain’s alpha wave level helps fight the symptoms of depression at least temporarily.

Of course, everyone is subject to feeling blue, but when these feelings become overwhelming and last for long periods of time, they can keep you from leading a normal, active life. That’s when it’s time to seek medical help.

The antidote to SAD?
So maybe one treatment for SAD might just be a good massage, a silly movie, a chat with a good friend, a good meal, and a good bar of chocolate. Not necessarily in that order. 🙂