Natural Ways to Treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
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Are you one of the estimated 11 – 12 million Americans who struggle with the Winter Blues (aka. Seasonal Affective Disorder, or “SAD” for short)?
If you or someone you love struggles with this, you’re definitely not alone. The good news though, is that there are natural ways to treat seasonal affective disorder that can help.
Known to affect young women three times more than any other group of people, SAD generally occurs in the winter, but can also occur in the summer months. Typically, it manifests as ‘the winter blues’ and in severe cases it can even require hospitalization.
Seasonal affective disorder is a legitimate diagnosis recognized by the medical community and should not be minimized.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
To be diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder, a medical professional will look for a pattern of at least two years of major depression that changes with (and coincides with) certain seasons.
According to a recent article in Psychology Today, symptoms commonly associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder include:
- Sadness and feelings of hopelessness
- Suicidal thoughts
- Tendency to oversleep
- Changes in appetite, especially a craving for sweet or starchy foods
- Weight gain
- A heavy, weighty feeling in the arms or legs
- Low energy level
- Decreased physical activity
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increased sensitivity to social alienation
- Avoidance of social situations
Symptoms of summer SAD are:
- Poor appetite
- Weight loss
- Agitation and anxiety
Either type of SAD may also include some of the symptoms that occur in a major depression, including feelings of guilt, a loss of interest or pleasure in activities that you usually enjoy, ongoing feelings of hopelessness or helplessness, or physical problems such as headaches and stomach aches.
As a society we need to recognize common challenges like this as an illness and support one another. It’s important that mental illness of all kinds be de-stigmatized so that people can get the help they need to live their best life.
Although the cause is unclear, there is some evidence that SAD is related to the level of melatonin in the body.
Melatonin is a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. The production of melatonin is stimulated by darkness. This prepares the body for sleep. As winter days get shorter and darker, melatonin production in the body goes up and people start to feel sleepier and more lethargic during what would be their normal waking hours.
People with SAD may also produce less Vitamin D in the winter months because they are exposed to less sunlight. Low levels of Vitamin D are associated with clinically significant depression symptoms.
While Seasonal Affective Disorder can affect anyone, it tends to be more prevalent in people living closer to the north or south poles than those who live closer to the equator. This is thought to be because people who live closer to the equator have the same number of daylight and nighttime hours year round and are not faced with the long winter nights and short days that come with living farther north or south. They also generally do not ‘spring forward or fall backward,’ like we do in America.
Family history of other types of depression can also make it more likely that someone will develop SAD between the ages of 18 -30, and it can last a lifetime.
So, what do you do when you realize you’re one of the millions affected by the winter blues?
Natural ways to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder
Disclaimer: This information is for entertainment and educational purposes only. If you are struggling with depression, please talk to your family doctor or health care provider about your available options. No one solution works the same for everyone. This blog is not a substitute for professional or medical advice.
>> Click here to read my full disclaimer.
For me, the safest approach is to treat SAD first with natural solutions. I recommend essential oils and a healthy dose of sunshine.
Let’s face it, we’re solar powered beings. Sunshine gives us energy and improves our mood.
Of course, all things in moderation. But beyond helping our bodies produce vitamin D and regulate melatonin and serotonin, sunlight offers us untold benefits.
You might also consider getting a light box and getting some light therapy. While good old fashioned sunshine is still recommended, light boxes can help trigger the brain to release melatonin and can help a lot of people who can’t get outside during the day.
Another alternative is to make it a priority to sit by a sunny window for a while each morning to soak in the suns’ healing rays.
Connect with nature and enjoy the little things to help beat the winter blues
In the dark, bitter cold days of midwinter when we’ve been deprived of quality time in the sunshine, it can be easy for almost anyone to and feel depressed and to overlook the tiny miracles that are happening all around us.
Signs of new life abound, even in the dead of winter!
Observe what I discovered on a walk in my yard in New Jersey this morning. Nestled between the seemingly frozen earth and a dusting of new snow is a reminder of spring… there is a blanket of moss just brimming with hearty, albeit tiny, vegetation.
Nature finds a way to spring forth in some pretty harsh conditions. She shows us that adaptation and survival are possible, even in the most inhospitable of places.
Connecting with nature and appreciating the growth and signs of life all around us, even in winter can have a strong positive effect on our psyche and overall mental health. Aside from getting more sunshine (and fresh air), stopping to observe nature’s resilience and miracles even in the otherwise bleak midwinter helps us to feel grateful and hopeful, which can ward off feelings of seasonally-induced depression at this time of year.
Combating Seasonal Affective Disorder with fresh air
There was a time, not so long ago, when mothers were told to bundle up their children and take them out for a walk in their strollers to get them some fresh air and sunshine.
That has fallen out of vogue in recent years. But it’s still important. That fresh air and sunshine also helps you stay healthy, as most germs that will make you sick need to stay in the warm air of our homes.
Opening the windows on nice days and airing out the house comes from the same traditions.
Remember that when we’re depressed and stressed our immunity is suppressed. So, it’s critical we do all we can to support ourselves.
Essential oils for seasonal affective disorder
Another powerful, all-natural way to combat seasonal affective disorder is to incorporate some basic essential oils into your daily routine starting as soon as you feel the onset of depression.
I may be biased. (OK, I AM biased). But as a certified aromatherapist, I know that aromatherapy has the power to transform our mood. So why not employ a few drops of essential oils to boost your mood and get back on track?
If you’re accustomed to using essential oils, then you probably already know which oils you respond to best regarding elevating your mood and helping you feel grounded and return to a sense of emotional balance.
My personal favourite essential oils for uplifting mood are
- citrus oils like Bergamot, Wild Orange, and Grapefruit
If you’re well-versed in using essential oils to help elevate your mood, then get them out and start diffusing. Remember, you only need a few drops to have a big impact on your mood and sense of wellbeing.
How to use essential oils to combat seasonal affective disorder
Essential oils are the life’s blood of certain plants and have been used for centuries to support healing and a sense of wellbeing. They are powerful and should never be left where small children could accidentally ingest them or spill them on their delicate skin.
Additionally, caution must be exercised when using essential oils around the elderly or chronically ill. But used correctly, they offer natural support to help our bodies return to a state of homeostasis that promotes healing.
Only use essential oils that you can trust are responsibly sourced from reputable companies who are providing a pure and natural product.
At The House & Homestead, we recommend Plant Therapy essential oils for their quality, affordability and for the emphasis that Plant Therapy puts on safe use.
Start off by diffusing one oil at a time so you can evaluate the benefits of each oil. Remember, each person is unique, so what might be terrific for one person’s mood might stir up negative emotions for others. Until you smell the oils you can’t know for sure what memories might be associated with them.
Next, get an ionic diffuser or two.
I suggest you try the following oils for daytime diffusing if you’re struggling with S.A.D. or just need a pick me up:
- Wild Orange
Start by diffusing 6 – 10 drops in a large diffuser for 2 – 4 hours and pause to evaluate how you’re feeling. Then try another oil and take note how that compared to the previous oil.
Once you’ve taken note of how each individual oil makes you feel consider blending 2 or 3 of them, but do not exceed a total of 6 – 10 drops at a time. This type of experimentation can be fun and has the added benefit of helping you feel empowered to take action to help support yourself.
Self-love is one of the most important things we can do to improve our overall mood and sense of wellbeing.
A note of caution: citrus oils like orange, bergamot, tangerine, and grapefruit can be stimulating when diffused at night. They’re great for perking you up. But can make it difficult to sleep. So, listen to your body and see how each oil affects you personally.
Then once the sun goes down, try diffusing these oils overnight:
Try these oils individually in the nighttime for a couple of hours before bedtime. Should any one of them make you feel restless stop using it, rinse out your diffuser, and try another oil. They should help support relaxation and grounding and promote sleep. Only diffuse oils overnight that you have tried and gotten positive results with already.
Experiment with these nighttime oils as recommended for the daytime oils above. Let your body/mind be your guide in combining them when you’re aware of how they make you feel when you use them individually. Remember to not exceed 10 drops total in the diffuser at a time. It’s wasteful and frankly, unnecessary.
A word of advice: Clean your diffuser often to avoid build up of oils. It’ll function best when cleaned weekly, depending on use. Always follow the manufacturers recommendations.
You can also try some essential oil blends to help elevate your mood and calm anxieties this time of year. Here are a few to try:
Diffuse some essential oils and make time for a walk outside, preferably in nature. Take time to really see the forest for the trees (since there may not be able flowers to stop and smell just yet).
Get a healthy dose of sunshine (or at least some light therapy).
Open the windows and get some fresh air!
Meditate. Practice gratitude and enjoy the little things. Notice nature’s beauty all around you.
And lastly, remember that spring is just a few weeks away!
Penny Clegg is a certified aromatherapist, essential oil specialist and freelance writer. She lives in New Jersey with her husband Bill and together they enjoy travelling around the country in their RV with their fur babies, Tito and Fuzzy Muzzle.
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