If you’re finding yourself depressed, blue or sad during fall and winter– know that you’re not alone! The effect the seasons of fall and winter have on human beings is well-documented. There is even a “disorder” coined for it, referred to as SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder. Lack of sunlight has been one of the primary focal points in treating SAD, but there is much more to it. The reason for the focus on sunlight is obvious for many reasons, and it’s been used as a marketing approach for anti-depressant pharmaceuticals, sun lamps, vitamin D supplements, and travel. Many say marketing in reflection of SAD is the primary reason for so many holidays being in the seasons of fall and winter. We need a “pick me up”, and many businesses are happy to offer a plethora of options. Everything from toys and clothing sales, to happy hour specials and free anti-depressant samples.
I have historically struggled with “SAD” myself over many years, although I have not found vitamin D, anti-depressant pharmaceuticals, sun lamps, and especially not a shopping spree to be particularly effective in the past. Travel is not always an ideal option for many of our busy lives, either. “Alright honey–we’re blowing off our jobs and our savings for a trip to Hawaii!” I decided to tackle SAD recently when I found it affecting my daily life, and the marketed solutions not yielding any lasting results. I am normally very upbeat, optimistic, and enthusiastic. Everything was going well in my life situation, and yet I found myself feeling down and blue as fall came into full-swing. How frustrating!
There certainly is a relation between sunlight, vitamin D, and our mental health, but then it would seem everyone should move closer to the equator to remain positively charged, wouldn’t you say? Believe it or not, this was the original solution I proposed to myself when I found the seasons of winter and fall repeatedly handing me feelings of sadness on a platter. Look out San Diego, here I come! The actual results of my tackling SAD surprised me.
I conducted a series of tests and researches, carefully observed the most effective solutions, and narrowed it down to the two most affective tips. The first question I asked myself was “Why do I find people out for walks at 6am when it’s 30 degrees outside!?” This brings us to tip number one.
1) Go for walks!
Firstly, when the weather is less than vibrant, we tend to avoid going for walks or being otherwise active outside. It’s true that for most, including the writer of this article, that it is initially difficult to want to leave the shelter of our warm homes. I found myself looking outside and thinking “Well, I’ll wait to see if the Sun comes out or it warms up.” Gradually, the Sun stopped coming out altogether, the temperature stayed low, and my mood began to drop as I missed my daily walks. I thought, due to clever marketing, it was the sunshine I was missing. I tried vitamin D, anti-depressants and sunlamps without much success.
The truth revealed itself when I resumed my twice daily walking routine, regardless of weather. After the very first walk, my mood significantly improved. I’ve researched many studies, been advised by psychologists, and listened to lectures, including at the world’s largest nutrition school, which have suggested the importance of walking in nature for mental and physical wellness. I started years ago, and never paid it much mind. I figured I was happy because of other reasons, like broccoli (we’ll get to that soon). Well, I can now say the trying seasons of fall and winter have a way of showing us the truth.
Just bundle up, maybe put your favorite tunes in your ears, and get out there! It will be worth it, and you can reward yourself with a nice warm shower or bath when you return! Aim to go for at least 20 minutes, and 5 times a week. You’ll find the benefits showing after the first walk. Having a walking buddy to help keep you accountable is great, but don’t discount the value of solo walks!
2) Eat wholesome, warming meals!
Many reach for comfort foods during the holidays, most of which are processed/fast-food or heavy in animal meat. I know I did this in the past. In addition, at the end of the night, or perhaps even earlier, I would find myself and friends reaching for a glass or two of wine. I would consume this kind of food and drink, and initially find myself feeling better and definitely warmer. Less than an hour later, and I found myself worse off than before. Once I resumed eating warmed or hot versions of a mostly plant-based diet, I found a massive and lasting boost in mood and cognitive performance. Green leafy vegetables are loaded with essential nutrition for the human body, which of course includes our mental processes as the brain/mind is interconnected with the body.
Are foods really that powerful?
We are discovering that scientifically, green leafy vegetables like kale, mustard greens, and even broccoli, are more complete and complex “drugs” than the best pharmaceuticals on the market–even when it comes to depression and anxiety! Everyone is different in what works best for them. I personally have never found a more effective anti-depressant than broccoli! It’s true! I’ve tried every major anti-depressant in my past, and yet broccoli wins out! I noticed when anyone I ate broccoli around would comment about 30 minutes later “Why are you so happy?!”
Animal protein is important, too. Some need more than others, and it’s important to pay attention to this and how it affects your body. I personally find I and most of my clients need about a fistful in a day, usually in the form of free-range eggs or chicken. We are all different, so experiment and have fun doing it! Pay special attention to how foods affect your mood and digestion.
As Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine said “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.”
In summary, it’s all about not letting appearances fool us. It may look outside like there is no reason to leave our home. Anti-depressants, alcohol, processed/fast-foods and other drugs might seem an attractive way to circumvent the laws of our evolution. However, when you get down to it, we’re still essentially the same human beings we were 2,000 years ago. Just because our sciences have evolved, doesn’t mean our biology has done the same. We need communion with nature, in the form of natural foods, nature walks, and incorporating as much natural processes we can into our daily life.
You might find yourself needing support, and most of us do! Take a few deep breaths, and stay positive! YOU CAN DO THIS!