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Conquering S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder)

Or just managing it.

· Mood

This is a topic I turned over in my mind often through those November days when I was in high school. I remember waking up for my extracurricular volleyball or basketball practice at 6AM, dragging myself into school afterwards and rarely leaving for lunch break because I was neck deep in IB curriculum. We were out at 3:40PM exactly, wherein I would spend over an hour on the 11 bus route home, and the streetlights would by this time would be winking at me on my road. It was soul-numbing. At this time, I craved heat. I envisioned my winter vacay. I craved that penetrating light and warmth that Canadians miss over 6 months of the year.

Almost 1/3 of Canadians (Truly it may be more than statistics reflect) are Vit D insufficient or deficient. It is precisely correlated to our climatic conditions and it is nigh impossible to combat at this latitude.

So, many of us retreat down South, way South, to hover around the equatorial line for as long as our work permits us. It is a survival technique. My British hub did not get this at first, thinking it was humdrum and repetitive, but post-pandemic we are both onboard for a little trip to Mexico or, heck, Honduras. Call me spoiled but I like a healthy dose of natural Vitamin D and salty air in my nostrils.

Our mood and stress has been compounded by the pandemic no doubt. So how I am managing?

  1. Happy Lamp: By turning on my Happy (or SAD - call it what you will) lamp for 2-3 hours a day in my living room. It emits a bright light I barely saw in the summer despite being out every day.
  2. The Obvious By Now: I am taking at least 5000 IUs of Vit D a day, usually from Pure Encapsulations which is a simple ingredient, Canadian company. 
  3. Little Exercise (Under The Sun): I am blessed that I can take walks on our rocky beach every other day when the wind is not threatening to blow me over. You might notice that you feel better after being in the midday sun, around 11-2PM; after that you will not gain as much benefit even if it is shining bright, because of the sun's position in the sky...
  4. Sun Veneration: I also really like catching the sunset as much as possible. I heard it helps with PTSD symptoms but that was on Medical Medium's podcast so don't quote me. I DO enjoy 1-3 cycles of Surya Kriya, a hatha yoga practice which activates the solar heat in your system, daily, as it sharpens my brain and gives me a hit of energy without drinking coffee. 
  5. Mushrooms: I find eating lots of mushrooms, culinary and medicinal (like shiitake, osyter, chaga, reishi, turkey tail and lion's mane) to be incredibly uplifting to the mood and spirit, on top of strengthening immunity. They have plenty of Vitamin D because they grow in almost total darkness and so possess a natural reserve. They also contain substantial amounts of B vitamins which give them, and us, energy, on top of calming our nerves. 
  6. A Little Extra: 5-HTP, an amino acid found naturally in the African Griffonia shrub, increases the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter affecting our mood and happiness. If you need something extra to pull through the winter haul, have a look at these quality products, by NOW Foods, Thorne & Pure Encapsulations. St. John's Wort is a time weathered herb for S.A.D. and "all down-heartedness"; it can be taken as a tea, tincture, in capsule form, or applied topically as a salve or infused oil. 
  7. Floral Goodness: In terms of Bach essences, Mustard is key for S.A.D. as it can lift you out of unexplained bouts of sadness which may come and go unexpectedly. If you find it difficult to "snap out of it" as some may tell you to do, then try Mustard. I took it for the last 3 weeks and no longer feel my mood dipping in the slightest. It's like I'm in a constant pleasant cocoon. Hornbeam can help if you have trouble starting the day and want to renew your motivation and joie de vivre. If you look into many people's eyes in the wintertime (some of the only connection we share nowadays with our masks on) you'll notice that glazed-over appearance, especially in places like Toronto, by around March. Wild Rose helps wake you out of that apathy and resignation when under the spell of the winter blues.
  8. Gratitude? S.A.D. is a systemic imbalance from a chemical deficiency that can have physiological and psychological snowball effects. It is not in your head. It can't be "cured" just by working on your gratitude or scribbling positive affirmations in your journal. Someone recently reminded me of the important of gratitude, and while it does deserve its time in the limelight (since 2014), it is not a catch-all cure-all. Please be sensitive to how people are feeling right now, and more than ever, be careful with yourself, because things aren't all fine and dandy, and that's okay. Yes we are all grateful for many, many things, some tangible and some hard to capture in words, but if you decide to journal about this, it is 100% up to you.

So, what are your S.A.D. coping strategies?

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