Each year, I get excited about the lighting of the Flagstaff star on Veterans Day here in Boulder, Colorado because this event begins the holiday season, for me. With a growing practice, and a toddler, I am extra busy this time of year.
How do you feel about the holidays this year? Excited to be together with family and friends or maybe even a special someone? A little stressed or over-the-top stressed? Or are you sad, maybe even depressed?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Let’s face it, as wonderful as the holidays are, they also ask us to give extra energy at a time of year when the shorter days and diminished sunlight can affect our moods. It seems like the sun disappears much too early in December. But if you’ve felt depressed, or like you have the “winter blues” for a couple of months now, there might be something more going on.
How do you know if you have SAD?
We all have days when we feel down. That’s normal. But if you’re feeling depressed for days at a time, or have no interest in your favorite activities like walking on the Pearl Street Mall to see the holiday decorations, making your favorite food, or taking a yoga class from your favorite instructor, you could be experiencing a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
SAD is a kind of depression that’s related to changes in the seasons. People often start to feel it in the late fall when the days get shorter, with symptoms becoming more severe during the winter and then dissipating when spring arrives, and the days get longer.
General symptoms can include:
- feeling depressed almost daily
- feeling guilty or worthless, hopelessness
- trouble concentrating, sluggishness, agitation
- low energy
- difficulty sleeping
- changes in weight or appetite
- suicidal thoughts
- loss of interest in exercise and things you like to do
There are some additional symptoms that are specific to fall and winter SAD or to spring SAD (yes, a small number of people can experience symptoms in the spring). Our office can help you determine if you have any of these.
While we don’t know the specific cause of SAD, contributing factors may be:
- disruption of your circadian rhythm (your internal biological clock) due to a decrease in the level of sunlight during shorter fall and winter days
- lower levels of serotonin (an important neurotransmitter in your brain) due to less sunlight, which can lead to depression
- out-of-balance melatonin levels in your body due to the change in seasons, which can affect your mood and sleep patterns
Some helpful tips for getting through SAD and other mental health issues at this time of year:
- Buy and use a sunlamp. Verilux is the kind I like, but there are many brands. These types of lamps are used to treat SAD because they emit light that is similar to sunlight and can help modulate melatonin, serotonin, and other neurotransmitters. Try to sit under a 10,000-lux light for 30 minutes each morning.
- Exercise! It can be super hard to motivate yourself when you’re depressed, but exercise can really help boost brain chemicals that improve mood.
- Eat a colorful diet. I like to call it a “rainbow diet.” Try adding 3 to 7 different colors of fruits and vegetables to your plate at each meal in order to get more nutrients in your diet. I know that, sometimes, the only things that seem to provide you with sweetness and predictability in your life are ice cream, potato chips, and other high-carb foods. These can help temporarily, but many of these foods can have rebound effects that contribute to more depression and fatigue. Foods that are important to avoid when you are depressed are; aged meat, dairy (including cheese), alcohol, and sugar. There are many trendy diets right now that are actually great for people experiencing depression. These include the Autoimmune Paleo (AIP) diet, which is a type of paleo diet that eliminates eggs, grains, nuts, seeds, and nightshade plants (you only eat meat, fish, fruit, and veggies that are not members of the nightshade family), as well as ketogenic and anti-inflammatory diets. However, as with all naturopathic recommendations, it is important to tailor these diets to your own dietary sensitivities.
- Take vitamin D. There is a lot of research about its benefits for dealing with SAD. Remember, vitamin D is a hormone, not a vitamin, and it has many benefits for mood and the immune system.
- At our clinic, our naturopathic approach is very individualized and may include ordering specialized lab testing to see if other factors are contributing to your mental health, addressing nutritional and hormonal concerns, making sure you are well resourced with therapy, massage, or anything else that helps uplift your mood. We also prescribe supplements, nutrients, and botanical medicine including herbal teas, tinctures, and capsules as well as biological drainage medicine and homeopathy. Plus we have an infrared sauna to warm you up and help you sweat and detox. Craniosacral and other physical modalities are also used because touch is a powerful medicine.
Dealing with grief and loss during the holidays
SAD is one of a number of reasons that people can feel depressed during the holidays. But what happens when you’re dealing with loss? Maybe a parent, your partner, a dear friend or beloved pet has died. Or possibly you’re going through a painful divorce or have lost your job or home. If you’ve experienced a loss, then the holidays can shine a spotlight on the fact that a special person or animal is no longer with you or remind you of other losses.
Since grief can put you at more risk for developing SAD, here are several helpful tools that I use for dealing with loss during the holidays:
- Join a grief group. In Boulder County, grief support takes many forms from yoga grief support to grief support that is specific to the nature of your loss, such as miscarriage, parental loss, child loss, or general loss.
- Find a grief therapist. We have referrals at our office. However, for specific grief, it is sometimes more effective to search using an online resource like PsychologyToday (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists). This website has a great search function to help you find therapists and support groups.
- Use flower essences, constitutional homeopathy, and essential oils. These are perfect for emotional upheaval such as that which occurs during grief. Everyone in our practice prescribes these treatments.
- Get body treatment. Most physical and energetic forms of medicine including reiki, acupuncture, and massage, which all address elements of grief.
- Read books like It’s Okay that You’re Not Okay, and Modern Loss. Reading poetry, looking at artwork, and listening to music can also be good therapy.
- Let yourself feel whatever you’re feeling. Grief is hard to overcome. The best new approaches recommend learning to live alongside it rather than to overcome it because it is hard to ever truly live without the person, or people you’ve lost.
Depression and SAD don’t have to ruin your holidays. It is a time to be grateful, acknowledging all the gifts and blessings that have come your way this year. There is never a better time to set goals for 2019. This could be your best year yet!
Dr. Rosia Parrish, ND is a Naturopathic Doctor at Boulder Natural Health, offering naturally-focused medicine to treat most acute and chronic health conditions in a holistic way and specializes in food allergies and digestive issues including IBS, SIBO, gas, bloating, constipation, candida, skin conditions including acne, eczema, and psoriasis, pre-pregnancy detox and support, fertility and infertility, postpartum health, hormone imbalance, fatigue and adrenal issues, autoimmune disease, and immune dysfunction including cold, flu, viruses, and infection. Dr. Parrish treats many different health conditions for women, men, and children.
Dr. Rosia Parrish received her four-year doctorate at Bastyr University, the world’s leading research university in Naturopathic Medicine, where she was trained to diagnose and treat acute and complex illnesses in a holistic way with both modern and traditional medicinal philosophies. Dr. Parrish holds a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology with a focus in medical anthropology and pharmaceutical politics from CU-Boulder.
Dr. Rosia Parrish treats by providing wellness consultation including diet, lifestyle, and nutritional counseling, as well as recommendations for herbal supplements, vitamins, nutrients, homeopathic, and drainage remedies. Dr. Parrish also orders basic and specialty labwork, and helps you to find and treat the root cause of your symptoms.
Learn more about Dr. Rosia Parrish, ND, at: Clinic Website:www.bouldernaturalhealth ; Clinic Facebook page:https://www.facebook.com/pg/bouldernaturalhealth; Naturopathic Advocacy Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/NDAdvocates; Twitter: https://twitter.com/naturomedicine; Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/naturomedicine;
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rosia; Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/rosia/