Holistic Support for Seasonal Affective Disorder
Feb 02, 2016 05:22PM
By Lupo Passero
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a common form of depression and/or increased anxiety that often occurs throughout the winter months. This depression is likely caused by our response to the fewer hours of daylight and warm sunshine. Some individuals are very sensitive to this decrease in sunlight and thus develop SAD—often referred to as “winter depression”. It is a fairly common diagnosis here in New England with our short days and freezing temperatures. Interestingly, more than 80 percent of SAD sufferers are women with the average onset age of 30-years old. Symptoms of SAD include carbohydrate craving, hypersomnia, lethargy, and changes in circadian rhythms.
There are a variety of holistic approaches to treating SAD. Vitamin D is often used as a valuable and effective remedy for this ailment. Begin by spending as much time outdoors in the sunlight as possible. In our region, we are blessed with many cold but sun-filled days. Be sure to take advantage of the sunshine, as real sunlight can be the greatest curative. Try to get out in the sun as much as possible throughout the long winter months hiking, skiing, or simply walking your dog, spending as much time as possible exposed to sunlight. If it is too cold, simply sit in a sunny window or spend a few extra minutes in a warm, sun-filled car. You may not be getting the UV rays, but the warmth of the sun on our skin is its own valuable healing remedy. A quick trip to the physician and blood work will give you a clear idea of whether you are low in vitamin D and may be in need of supplementation. There are many studies which support adding 400 units or more of vitamin D to the regimen of someone who suffers with SAD. Daily aerobic exercise is also highly recommended. Light therapy is another valuable thing to consider.
There are a plethora of herbal remedies to help support the body and tonify the nervous system when addressing SAD or winter depression. Herbal infusions (teas) are a great place to start. It is amazing what a cup or two of properly combined herbs can do for the body. A favorite approach would be to begin with tonic herbs such as oats (Avena sativa) or nettles (Urtica dioica). These herbs can be beneficial to any long-term change in the individual’s ability to cope with their environment by adding nutrients to the system. Both herbs are a rich source of calcium, magnesium and B vitamins—which are all necessary for a healthy nervous system support. Relaxing herbs such as passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) and skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) can be quite valuable as well, particularly if anxiety is a part of the equation. The most important herbs to include would be uplifting plants such as lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) and holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum). Lemon balm, with its pleasant lemony scent, has been valued as a long-time remedy for treating all types of depressions; it can have a noticeable uplifting effect immediately after ingesting. Holy basil is considered a sacred herb of India, used for thousands of years and currently a favorite modern herbal adaptogen. Adaptogens, such as holy basil, help to alleviate the stress that the whole body is experiencing by supporting and preventing nervous exhaustion, adrenal depletion and chronic illness.
Another popular herb for depression is St. John’s wort. Although it is a well-proven effective remedy for a variety of mild to moderate depression, it is not for everyone. The herb has some known contraindications with pharmaceutical drugs, thereby eliminating many individuals on prescriptions from ingesting it in tea, tincture or capsule form. St. John’s wort is considered to be the bringer of light, as it blooms on summer solstice (St. John’s day). It works to flood the body with the same essence of sunlight and allows for any feeling of darkness to be washed away like snow in the sunshine. It is a valuable remedy for depression and can be used throughout the winter months to ward off the winter blues.
Flower essences are highly diluted preparations—considered to be homeopathic remedies—that are safe for all and do not have any contraindications.
Lupo Passero is a community herbalist and director of Twin Star Herbal Education in New Milford. See Community Resource Guide listing, page 53.