9 Natural Remedies For Seasonal Affective Disorder

Don't wait until winter to get a seasonal affective disorder light.

September 11, 2017
RossHelen

I call it “the cloud.” That hazy, dark heaviness that has enveloped me each and every November as long as I can remember. For anyone who also suffers from symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, you surely can relate to this feeling.

For a long time, seasonal affective disorder didn’t even have a clinical name, until Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D. , Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University and author of Winter Blues, published a journal article in 1984 in which seasonal affective disorder (SAD) was described for the first time. After moving from sunny South Africa to the Northeast United States, Rosenthal wasn’t accustomed to the short, dark days he experienced after daylight saving time. He set out to collaborate with medical professionals and scientists to research winter blues, studying melatonin suppression and light exposure.

“All these threads came together,” Rosenthal says.

Now considered to be a diagnosable medical condition, seasonal affective disorder can strike people as early as August. Common symptoms include depression, low energy, sluggishness, and weight changes. While many people with SAD experience symptoms during winter, some individuals deal with summer seasonal affective disorder. (Here are 6 signs you might have the summer blues.) My own dwindling energy and glum mood typically start right around daylight saving time.

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But seasonal affective disorder isn't inevitable. You can mitigate the severity of the symptoms, especially if you get started early in the season: Professionals recommend starting at the first signs of fall.

Here's how to stop seasonal affective disorder before it starts.

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Get a head-start with light therapy

Light therapy has been proven to lessen or even eradicate seasonal affective disorder symptoms altogether. Rosenthal encourages an earlier-the-better approach. He says, “I advocate early intervention with bright light, especially in the morning, starting shortly before the typical onset of seasons.” For you, that could mean firing up your light therapy lamp in the fall or even as early as August.

Don't yet have a light therapy lamp? We like the Verilux HappyLight Liberty, which delivers 10,000 lumens of UV-filtered light per square meter. $100 at amazon.com.

Related: 5 Ways To Fight The Winter Blues

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Choose the right foods

Rosenthal also recommends not overdoing it on carbs “to prevent the winter weight gain associated with SAD.” The urge to gorge on carbohydrates is just one symptom of SAD, and there's a reason your body wants them: Consuming carbohydrates boosts the availability of the amino acid tryptophan, which sunlight converts to mood-boosting serotonin and vitamin B6. Rather than loading up on carbs, opt for foods containing tryptophan (seafood, poultry, grass-fed meats, leafy greens, and green vegetables such as asparagus and broccoli are all good sources) for a mood lift.

Dark leafy greens like collards, kale, and chard are all good sources of tryptophan. Check out the recipe video below for the easiest way to cook any type of leafy green:

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Meet with a therapist

SAD isn’t considered chronic depression, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less severe. Therapist Mitch Bacon notes that while therapy can assist those dealing with SAD, appointments shouldn’t necessarily just take place during winter. “I am a believer that meeting with therapists when things are not at crisis level is helpful,” he says. “I typically meet with clients less in the summer, but maintain connection, and then start ramping up as the seasonal shifts start to take place.”

He says that therapy can “help stave off symptoms before they arrive,” and if anything, a therapist can be a “useful ally to share a cup of tea with on a cold winter day.”

Related: 10 Healthy Habits Of Happy People Who Know How To Survive Winter's Dark Days

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Embrace a slower pace

Instead of resisting the changing seasons, it can help to accept the slowed pace and even enjoy it (often referred to as hygge). As modern humans, Bacon says, “We have lost quite a bit of touch with our circadian rhythms,” and, “Winter is a time when our biology is telling us to slow down, rest, and hunker down until spring.” He recommends getting outside to stay connected to natural rhythms.

Related: 6 Ways To Embrace Hygge—The Danish Secret To Staying Happy During Winter

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Take it outside

As Bacon notes, it is indeed important to get outside, “in all seasons,” as he says. It’s a great way to get sunlight in an effort to soak up vitamin D, but Bacon shares that it’s also a way to appreciate the seasonal variations. “It can be difficult to fall in when SAD symptoms create a lack of motivation to get outside, but getting outside can be just the cure we need.” Rosenthal agrees and advocates having an exercise program “that will help you through the winter.” Not only is movement good for you, but spending time in nature has numerous health benefits—including lowering your heart rate and strengthening your immunity. Read more about the amazing ways nature can heal you.)

Related: 5 Simple Steps To Starting An Exercise Routine You Can Stick To

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Add social activities to your calendar

Connecting with people, in doses that feel comfortable to you, is another way to soften the effects of SAD. “Human connection starts to fade in the winter months, and maintaining social connection can be helpful,” says Bacon. He suggests a recurring Sunday community soup dinner or midweek game night.

Related: 5 Foods That Help Reduce Your Anxiety Naturally

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Consider taking Vitamin D supplements

Vitamin D is touted as a way to minimize SAD symptoms. Bacon says that vitamin D is “linked to mood,” and recommends “consulting with a doctor on the best dosage.” Alternately, Rosenthal says that there is “very little evidence that supplements, like vitamin D, do anything for SAD,” adding, “though they probably do no harm either.” Supplements are a personal choice, so discuss your options with your doctor before working them into your routine.

Related: 4 Healing Soups To Boost Your Immune System

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Invest in a dawn simulator

A new tool that many SAD sufferers swear by is a dawn simulator, a clock that imitates the light of a sunrise. You can start using it in the fall to grow accustomed to waking up with it. Bacon explains, “Instead of the abrupt alarm clock going off in the dark, it’s a gentle-sounding alarm that also brings light, simulating waking with the sun.” (We like the Phillips Wake-Up Light With Sun Simulation And Radio, $80, on amazon.com.)

Related: Make This 3-Ingredient Room Spray To Boost Your Mood In Seconds 

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What has worked for me:

It seems as if every winter, my seasonal affective disorder lightens a little more. I adhere to many of the suggestions above, and I also have my own set of non-clinical methods that seem to help. These are some of my tried-and-true approaches:

I spend a weekend cleaning the house top to bottom. If my SAD worsens, cleaning is typically the last thing on my mind. (If this speaks to you, check out these 7 genius cleaning tips that will change your life before you get started.)

I enjoy changing the scents of my products to match the seasons, as a way of embracing the changes taking place. Pine-scented lotion, cedarwood essential oil, and cinnamon candles boost my mood and create coziness. (If you're going to use scented candles, be sure to light them in a well-ventilated area, or opt for beeswax candles instead—here are 3 ways scented candles are messing with your health.)

I surround myself with as much light as possible. In addition to my light box, I put flameless candles all over the house and hang string lights.

And I’m a firm believer that there’s very little a cup of hot cocoa can’t cure.

Be sure to consult with a medical professional to receive an official diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder and discuss the therapies that will work best for you.

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