As days grow shorter and colder, sunlight and balmy weather (the natural antidepressants at least partially responsible for our carefree attitudes in summer) are in increasingly short supply. What results in between 1 and 10 percent of U.S. residents is a malady that looks, feels, and can be treated similarly to depression.
Called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), the ailment's symptoms include fatigue, irritability, overeating, weight gain, and depression. Most commonly, SAD persists through fall until spring is well and truly here, though in rare cases, it can continue into summer.
The treatments for SAD are almost identical to those for depression: They include antidepressants and SSRIs, talk therapy, and emphasize photo (or light) therapy. But, in a country where 1 in 10 of us is already on an antidepressant, I prefer to steer my patients toward holistic remedies before we turn to medication.
Whether you have SAD or depression is something only a qualified health care professional who has properly assessed you can determine. If you are suffering from classic depression, its origins may be in the brain's structure, genetic influence, and hormone disruption, or situational stress and drama.
Even if you haven't been clinically diagnosed with depression or SAD, these recommendations can help you navigate the ups and downs of everyday life, without the side effects of medication (including weight gain or a lower sex drive).
Even if you and your doctor decide medication should be part of your treatment plan, incorporating these remedies can shorten the time you have to rely on medication. Let’s look at a few of the easy ways you can support a more positive mood:
Scientific research into depression has found a link between serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that performs many functions, and depression. Some research suggests that serotonin is responsible for maintaining a good mood, so individuals with low serotonin may experience symptoms of depression.
Exercise releases more serotonin in the brain. Think about the high that runners talk about. This may be a result of a boost in serotonin production. Exercise’s effects on the brain are still being uncovered, but what we know supports the notion that exercise is healthy for myriad reasons.
For an even greater happiness boost, find exercise that you love. Giving yourself the opportunity to engage in activities that turn you on enriches your life even more. Group exercise programs also contribute the benefits of belonging and community, which help people to feel less isolated, which can be a potential trigger for depression symptoms.
2. Soak up the sun.
We evolved outdoors, hunting and gathering in direct light, even in the winter. But now most of us spend our days in cubicles with fluorescent lighting. Now that you know sunlight is necessary for your wellbeing, you can consciously boost your exposure. Try a few of these strategies.
Take a midmorning break from work and step outside for a walk. Even in overcast conditions, you will access the mood-boosting benefits of the sun. Head outdoors as much as you can after work. And exercise outside for a double boost! Alternatively, decorate your office with indoor lamps meant to mimic the sun's rays.
3. Get calm.
Results indicate that a meditation program might improve signaling connections in the brain and help us to better process emotions. Some research suggests that meditation might rival antidepressant medication for effectiveness in some cases.
4. Eat turkey (or other foods rich in tryptophan).
Tryptophan is an amino-acid found in both plant and animal sources (people are often aware that turkey is a great source of tryptophan), which increases the body’s production of serotonin. Researchers have looked at its role in relieving depression. One study found that nations with the highest levels of dietary tryptophan also had lower levels of suicide. Aside from turkey, you can find the nutrient in egg whites, cod, spirulina, and soybeans.
Depression can be a serious and complicated condition. For many, prescription medications are necessary. These suggestions for a holistic approach can improve their treatment plan. For everyone, these lifestyle modifications can decrease our susceptibility to depression and contribute to a better mood.