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Unhappy Holidays and Seasonal Affective Disorder

20 J00000012UTC 2011

People get weird and sad in December. The days shorten as the Winter Solstice approaches. Materialism abounds, even as good cheer attempts to spread. Some of us can’t handle the twinkle lights or  jingle bells. We’d like to punch the department store Santa in his big, jolly face. Isn’t winter supposed to be ‘good will toward man’ and ‘god bless us, every one’? When we can’t be with a loved one, the dog died last month, the family is far away or is a bunch of jerks or the darkness at 4pm creeps into the brain, Tiny Tim sounds like a brat.

If you can’t shake your grinchy funk or have been diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder, welcome to a large pool of Americans who struggle with a mysterious calendar-induced condition. If you don’t feel like doing anything, getting out of bed, making a meal or calling a friend (all good ideas), here are 10 tools for addressing the winter blues.

1. Douse Yourself in Light. When you wake and want to pull the comforter over your head, flip on the light or throw open the curtains instead. Look into the light. Use the force. Getting light into your eyes. Try a winter light machine or broad spectrum bulbs in your lamps both at work and home to make up for lost UV rays from the sun. Sunlight gets your circadian rhythm on track, helping to manage cortisol (your stress and get-up-and-go hormone) and melatonin (a calm and sleep hormone).

2. Build Breakfast to Balance Blood Sugar. Unstable blood sugar, or glucose, makes for a crabby demeanor, a light head, weight gain and low energy. Beginning each day with a balanced meal of 20 grams protein, 2 Tbsp healthy fats, 2 servings vegetables and a side of plain Greek yogurt or berries is a great way to get on the right track for the entire day– and season.

3. Eat Plenty of Protein, Preferably Animal. A deficiency in clean protein (think wild caught fish/sardines, nuts/seeds, poultry, organic eggs, grass fed beef, buffalo, elk, legumes) can deplete your neurotransmitters and hormones causing your nervous and endocrine systems to run on empty. If you don’t have enough building blocks to make serotonin and GABA, poor sleep and depression are on your doorstep. Aim for 20 grams of clean protein at each meal and 10 at each snack, balanced with healthy fats and plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit.

4. Go Play Outside. Your mama said it in the summer when your were a kid and now it’s time for winter play. Take the kids, the dog, the snowshoes or the skis out– even if it takes every last inch of your will and energy. Even 15 minutes in the winter air and sun each day will help battle the blues. Take off your hat and let sunlight get into the top of your head. Sunlight into the pineal gland (a small gland in the brain or ‘third eye’) produces melatonin and modulates wake/sleep and seasonal patterns.

5. Raise Low Cholesterol. A total cholesterol number that is below 150 can exacerbate depression-like symptoms. Because a large part of the brain is comprised of cholesterol and conductivity of neurons and cell walls depends on it, a deprivation of this fat causes harm to basic brain processes and makes you feel a bit crazy. Increase omega-3 essential fatty acids in the form of a high quality fish oil supplement (EPA and DHA) such as Pharmax, New Chapter or Nordic Naturals up to 4000mg/day. Replace canola, sunflower and safflower cooking oils with coconut. If you are taking statins to lower high cholesterol, research ways to lower your cholesterol naturally so you can (under a doctor and nutritionist’s care) go off your meds.

6. Get More Dark Leafy Greens. The color green is soothing to the mind, eyes and soul– and is obviously missing in our environment in the winter months. Greens, or foliage, are rich in folate, a lack of which results in depression attributes. To make up for the loss, and stock your body with essential vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and enzymatic cofactors, ingest green rather than looking at it. Kale, Brussels sprouts, Swiss chard, bok choy, spinach, mustards and even romaine lettuce will sooth and nourish your body, mind and soul.

7. Don’t Shy Away From Supplements. Turning to this kind of bottle is not a sign of weakness, but of being proactive about your well-being. Vitamin D throughout the winter, a daily B Complex, increased folate (B9) in a reduced form, SAM-e and St. John’s Wort (not to be taken with SSRIs) are all shown to be useful with seasonal affective disorder. We are all different, however, have different nutrient store baselines from which to start and different diets to gather nutrients from. It’s best to meet with a professional (like a nutritionist or naturopathic doctor) to see what supplements and doses work best for you.

8. Just Do Something, Don’t Do Nothing. This is my frequently used personal motto. Doing nothing always has the same result. Doing something, anything–washing the cat, shoveling the walk, writing your grandma, putting on a new outfit or baking a better cookie introduces a new variable which results in a new end product. I really believe in this principle, even when it’s hard.

9. Soothe Rather Than Stimulate. Instead of 3 cups of coffee every day, try 1 + decaf or, better yet, green or herbal tea (as much as you like); instead of the 2 glasses of wine each night, gradually phase back to 1/2 glass or 1 every other night (ideally only once or twice a week); instead of television or computer time after 8pm, try stretching, yoga, a quiet game, enjoyable music, a good story over candlelight, a warm shower, an epsom salt bath, a walk in the snow or a long, satisfying meal with a good conversation.

10. Be Kind, You Meany. Maybe no one else is being kind to you, but you can be kind to yourself. Maybe you don’t know how, and that’s okay, too, because everything takes time. Just breathe, tell yourself one nice thing or reserve judgment for something you would usually condemn yourself for. Laughter does a lot of good, so if it works for you to laugh about depression (a little backwards and dark, but so what), here’s a link to show you that you are not alone.

Resources: Bauman College Mental Health Therapeutics; Better Nutrition, December 2011;;

4 Comments leave one →
  1. amy permalink
    20 J00000012UTC 2011 7:35 am

    Is that a picture of a cat actually getting washed? That is simultaneously hilarious and terrifying! Good tips… I needed that reminder to go play outside. This time of year it’s so easy to just curl up under a blanket where it’s nice and warm…

    • 20 J00000012UTC 2011 9:07 am

      Yes it is, but it’s not my cat. Getting outside is my most difficult challenge, too, mostly because I am so cold natured. It is always worth it when I do; I never regret my decision for sunshine, even when it’s freezing out.

  2. 20 J0000004UTC 2011 6:10 pm

    I’m amazed, I have to admit. Seldom do I come across a blog that’s both
    educative and entertaining, and let me tell you, you have hit the
    nail on the head. The problem is an issue that not enough folks
    are speaking intelligently about. I’m very happy I stumbled across this during my hunt for something regarding this.

    • 20 J0000004UTC 2011 10:35 am

      Thanks for chiming in…I really appreciate it. It seems especially pertinent as I’m looking out my window, mid-April, to yet another snow storm. Hang in there and keep searching. There are answers and support!

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