It’s that time of year again – the days are shorter, the weather is turning yucky for many of us and we end up going into our annual ‘slump’ aka ‘the winter blues’. There’s the depression, the fatigue, the craving for carbs… Our sleeping patterns are all over the place… And many other issues, as listed below. And these can all be symptoms of SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder. A disorder very common in people with fibromyalgia and ME/CFS and occurs in the onset of autumn and winter. It’s important to know two things – that it is common – and it is treatable! Below are some top natural tips to beat Seasonal Affective Disorder.
- Lethargy – lacking in energy, unable to carry out a normal routine
- Sleep problems –finding it hard to stay awake during the day, but having disturbed nights
- Loss of libido – not interested in physical contact
- Anxiety – inability to cope in what would be considered ‘normal’ situations
- Social problems – irratibility and not wanting to see people
- Depression – feelings of gloom and despondency for no apparent reason
- Craving for carbohydrates and sweet foods- leading to weight gain
If this sounds like you, why not take a moment and take the SAD test available here?
Top Tips for Conquering SAD
Light therapy by using a ‘lightbox’ otherwise known as a ‘SAD lamp’ is one of the best and natural ways of treating SAD. Your ‘treatment’ is that you sit in front of a light box for about 30 minutes a day. Researchers at the University of Michigan Depression Center in Ann Arbor recommend that you use your lightbox first thing in the morning as it will ultimately suppress your natural melatonin release and stimulate your circadian rhythm and get you going for the day!
Many people find that SAD lamps are highly effective and that you don’t need to stare into the lamp straight on…catching it from the side of your eyes can work well, too…So, beside you at your desk whilst working on the computer, or on the table whilst you are having breakfast works well. Some people keep theirs on most of the day to provide added ‘oomph’ during the dark, bleak months.
Tip: If you are looking at purchasing a SAD lamp/lightbox, then one quick and important tip – make sure that it is 10,000 lux in order to get the greatest benefit. The prices for these SAD lamps/lightboxes can vary from under $100 – to several hundred dollars. Our choice is the NatureBright SunTouch plus Ion Therapy, which is under $55 and has thousands of great reviews!
Dawn simulators can also be of use to people struggling with seasonal affective disorder. They work as alarm clocks, but instead of jolting you out of bed with abrupt music or an alarm, they produce gentle light that gradually increases in intensity, just like the sun – and wake you up naturally.
The Philips WakeUp Light Dawn Simulator has some great functions and features on it:
- Wake-up naturally and improve your ability to function in the morning
- Only Philips Wake-up Lights are clinically proven to work
- Bright yellow sunrise simulation wakes you up gradually with natural light
- Includes a tap-to-snooze alarm clock and a beep function to ensure you wake up on time
- Use as a bedside lamp with 10 brightness settings
- Sunrise simulation wakes you gradually
- Bedside light with 10 light settings
- Color flow of sunrise: bright yellow
- Gentle beep ensures you get up on time
- Snooze function
Russian researchers found that dawn simulators were as effective as light therapy for people with mild SAD, according to a study published in 2015 in the Journal of Affective Disorders.
Aromatherapy, which is the use of essential plant and flower oils, has been used for over 6,000 years in regards to treating a variety of health conditions, including assisting with relaxation, sleep as well as increasing energy and feeling more vibrant, happy and a sense of well-being.
Although researchers still aren’t sure as to ‘how’ aromatherapy actually works, it is an actual health science and what researchers do believe is that the “smell” receptors in your nose communicate with parts of your brain (the amygdala and hippocampus) which serve as storehouses for emotions and memories. When you breathe in essential oil molecules, some researchers believe they stimulate these parts of your brain and influence physical, emotional, and mental health. For example, scientists believe lavender essential oil stimulates the activity of brain cells in the amygdala similar to the way some sedative medications work. Other researchers think that molecules from essential oils may interact in the blood with hormones or enzymes.
One study found that citrus fragrance essential oils could reduce the doses of antidepressants necessary for treatment of depression. The abstract explained: “The treatment with citrus fragrance normalized neuroendocrine hormone levels and immune function and was rather more effective than antidepressants.”
Another study published in the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine measured the responses of 17 cancer hospice patients to humidified essential lavender oil aromatherapy. Results reflected a positive change in blood pressure and pulse, pain, anxiety, depression, and sense of well-being.
Hint: The best and easiest (and cheapest!) way to get ongoing, lovely aromatherapy scents is through an aromatherapy diffuser. (We have ours running practically 24/7 with an oil for the daytime and another for aiding in sleep -and it is lovely and really makes a noticeable difference in mood, relaxation and certainly makes a difference in sleep!)
Although it can be difficult when you are in pain and fatigued, if you are able to move a bit, and get out of the house and get some fresh air and a change of scenery, it can help just doing a gentle 10 minute walk. Alternatively, if the weather is really making it hard for you to get out, if you are able to do a little bit of yoga or pilates a few times a week, it can help make a difference in your mood. Exercise is known to help other forms of depression and can help alleviate seasonal affective disorder, too. It can also help offset the weight gain that tends to come as a package deal with SAD.
Have a Schedule – And Stick To It!
When SAD hits us, many of us often also have issues with sleeping throughout the night and getting restful sleep and then struggling to get up in the morning because of this. It’s important to maintain a regular schedule, which keeps you on track and can improve your quality of sleep. Try to not nap during the daytime so that you can get into the swing of things.
Melatonin is a hormone that is made by the pineal gland and it helps to control sleep cycles and keep our circadian rhythm in balance. Melatonin is an excellent natural alternative to pharmaceutical sleeping medications and it is available over the counter in North America.
Ultimately, if you are able to achieve a good, restful night’s sleep each night, that is half the battle in regards to the effects on your mood, energy and fatigue. As well, melatonin can help your brain work better and help you with concentration stuff, too! (In other words for fibro and CFS peeps – it can make a difference in regards to brain fog).
Note: For some bizarre reason, melatonin is not available in the UK – unless it is prescribed by a psychiatrist or you are over 50 and are struggling to sleep. It has been available OTC in the USA and Canada for years and years! If you are in the UK you can order it on Ebay UK.
Not to be confused with the use of a light therapy box -these can really make a huge difference to your mood – and your sleep. I first heard of them a few years ago when friends told me that they were using them in their home – and that if they had them going in the evening before bed, they found they couldn’t get to sleep!
The light from the daylight bulbs is amazing! And if you can’t afford a light therapy box, these babies are a great alternative. I like these daylight bulbs best, as they have a dimmer option (a must if you want to use them also at night). Seriously, these work incredibly well! We love using them throughout the house in every season as the light from them is clear, crisp and clean feeling. (Instead of a heavy, dim yellow…).
There are a variety of ways to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder with natural options vs medication. Hopefully there are a few top tips in this blog to help you beat everything from depression to getting a more rested sleep and many other issues SAD can affect. As it is a very common condition in people with fibromyalgia and ME/CFS, looking at other natural alternatives can be a great source of help without causing side effects sometimes (read, most of the time!) caused by pharmaceuticals. When it is dark, gloomy and miserable weather out (which also can increase the pain) it just can make life that little bit (or a lot) more difficult. But there are options! And help!