Remedies for the Winter Blues
When this cluster of symptoms worsens in the winter it is called Seasonal Affective Disorder, better known as SAD. People at special risk for SAD have been identified as women between the ages of 20 and 40 with a family history of depression (3 out of 4 diagnosed with SAD are women), and those who suffer from Bipolar disorder.
The current science explaining the causes for SAD has focused on the loss of sunlight and the sun’s natural mood regulator, vitamin D. Research suggests that the further we live from the Equator the higher the incidence of SAD. Researchers also suggest that symptoms of SAD may be influenced by an increase in the hormone melatonin. Our bodies naturally produce melatonin in the pineal gland of the brain. The pineal gland increases production of melatonin in periods of increased darkness, and there is a correlation between increased levels of melatonin and changes in sleep patterns that can have a direct affect on our appetite, energy and mood. If you are taking melatonin, have your primary care provider evaluate your dose to see if it is correct for you.
So what do we do to “Keep on the Sunny Side of Life?”
The most common treatment for SAD is the light box (check out the Mayo Clinic website at: mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonalaffective-disorder/in-depth/seasonal-affective-disorder-treatment). You can see and try out a light box at both Marbleton and Pinedale Medical Clinics.
Supplement with vitamin D. According to Leslie Hagenstein, Family Nurse Practitioner with the Marbleton and Pinedale Medical Clinics: “Low levels of vitamin D make both depression and SAD worse. If you are suffering from either, consider getting a blood test to check your vitamin D level. If you have low levels of vitamin D, you should supplement with 1,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily. Vitamin D is fat soluble so work with your primary care provider for higher dose recommendations.” Leslie also recommends that if you are suffering from fatigue and depression, consider having your thyroid checked as a lazy thyroid will mimic depression and SAD.
A good way we can check for ourselves if we are suffering from SAD is to complete a depression inventory. Check out the Harvard National Depression Screening scale, a 10 question assessment, or the Beck Depression Inventory. Be ruthlessly honest in your responses on the assessments. You can score these assessments yourself and bring with you to your primary care provider or counselor.
Lucky for us here in Sublette County, there are many free and natural remedies for the winter blues. Here are a few:
Get Outside: Bundle up and make a routine of walking and exercising in the early morning or over your lunch hour. Take off your sunglasses and get sunlight on your eyelids. In a perfect world we would get 20 minutes of sunlight on our closed eyelids and our skin every day, this is the natural way to metabolize vitamin D. (Important: Sunglasses are essential the rest of the day to protect our eyes from our high altitude sunlight). Walk to
the post office, to Ridley’s or Burney’s. Walk your errands. Walk your children home from school. Walk your dog. Cross country ski or walk the most fabulous ski trail system in the state of Wyoming. If you can get out in the early
morning, go for it. Sit in the sun at lunch when possible. Your mood, appetite, and energy will thank you all day long.
Keep exercising indoors when the weather is awful: Try exercise classes at the PAC and Big Piney Rec Center, Proactive and Elevation Yoga studio. Winter is an excellent time to try something new: yoga, tai chi, Pilates, cross training, zumba, dance, pickle-ball, walking, running, biking and swimming. Regular exercise has been proven to increase “feel good” chemicals in the brain and body. Research suggests that you do not need to do high impact or intense exercise, just be frequent and consistent. The extra oxygen to our blood makes our brains and bodies happy. Eat well, especially in the beginning of your day. What does that mean? Big hot breakfasts and lunches with 3 oz of protein, vegetables, legumes and whole grain carbs. That can look like a breakfast burrito, breakfast sandwich, oatmeal with peanut butter, walnuts and fruit. Getting good nutrition in the beginning of the day decreases the mood swings and sugar crashes that come from high sugar breakfasts. Breakfast has been positively linked to higher rates of happiness, worker productivity and good grades. Check out www.foodnetwork.ca/kitchen-basics/photos/11foods-to-fight-seasonal-affectivedisorder/ for more information.
Eat meals with family and friends. Make time for family and friends. Turn off the screens and electronics after 7 pm to have better quality sleep.
When in doubt, GET HELP! If you or a family member or close friend observe that you’re stuck in the blues it’s time to contact your primary care provider and follow their recommendations. Local resources for help with SAD: High Country Behavioral Health: 367-2111; Marbleton/Big Piney Medical Clinic: 276- 3306, and Pinedale Medical Clinic: 367-4133.
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Originally printed in The Sublette County Magazine, winter 2017, shared with permission.
Photo ©Town of Pinedale 2019, used with permission