Imagine a place…
Cold, dreary, dim, dull, brown, long stretches of darkness, and lifeless, no people, plants, or animals to be seen.
What would you call such a scene? How about… a Winter Wonderland!!
Oh, how beautiful!
Sorry, but when the leaves dry up a bit and they lose all semblance of color – it’s time to pack up and head south.
I’m hating on this time of year because the changing seasons used to cause quite the disruption in my life. Especially when you consider how long the northern winters are.
Fortunately though, there is a name for the disorder that affects people seasonally. It is called Seasonal Affective Disorder, SAD for short (how appropriate). Thank you to all the clever folks who were witty enough to classify a group of sad people with such a fitting acronym.
The real story here is less about the treachery of depression, and SAD. What really matters is that these disorders can be managed. Many people do it by means of prescription drugs, but personally, I choose to stop it all in its tracks – naturally.
But if the Winter Blues (which is the obviously better name for SAD than SAD is) have you down, here some of the things that have worked for me and could work for you! Plus, I’ve included some bonus ideas that I haven’t tried, in case you really need some relief.
NUMBER ONE over all the reasons for improving what ails you is to fix your diet! What Americans have been peddled as healthy food over the past 50+ years is a crock of crap (insert stronger word if desired).
What’s most interesting about the Winter Blues is that the most affected part of your body, the brain, has the most to gain by eating right. Here’s why…
Real, healthy food is jam-packed with nutrients that actually allow your brain to function optimally. But there is another reason to eat right.
The brain in your head is not the only one in your body. In fact, many people call the GUT the second brain. Wanna know why?
Because just like the brain in your head, the gut has millions of neurons! Wow. What’s crazier, people with conditions like IBS, Celiac Disease¹ and other digestive conditions often trigger anxiety and depression. Keep in mind that digestive issues can be vastly improved, if not reversed, through diet alone.
So… EAT BETTER!
If you’ve never ventured into the realm of healing diets, my request is totally unreasonable! So I will point you in the direction of the following folks that I have profited greatly from, especially when it comes to diet improvements:
In the meantime, the following concepts are what you should keep in mind:
- Reduce or eliminate sugar
- Fat is not bad – unless it is derived from things that are. I usually stay away from anything that isn’t animal based, avocado, coconut, or organic vegetable based.
- Restrict the starchy carbs
- Ramp-up green leafy vegetables and vegetables in general
- Select free-range, hormone and antibiotic free, and properly fed meats and poultry (LOCAL is best!)
- Always eat organic as much as the budget allows
- Pay attention to things that upset you – Corn? Gluten? Dairy? Soy? Nightshades? Nuts? The list is endless and unique to everyone. Reaction possibilities to these foods is a LONG list – please do some extra research in this area.
Finding a practitioner who works with healing diets can be an awesome time-saving resource.
Diet is a life-changing event and involves changing your habits – for some help on this matter click here to enroll in our free 5-day Habits eCourse.
2. Holistic Health and Healing
What are some simpler ways, besides diet, to improve your physical and mental health?
- Drink more water: Staying thoroughly hydrated can make everything run a little smoother. Think quicker, feel better, and urinate more to flush out toxins by drinking purified, high quality water. We use a Berkey with fluoride filters to clean and purify our tap water.
- Salt water flush: I was pleasantly surprised at the positive mental clarity that resulted from the flush when I tried it. My mood was instantly improved. This is more of a Band-Aid approach to aiding symptoms of depression, however, as the positive feelings subside within an hour or so.
- Warning: Read this article prior to attempting – I will let the Detox Dudes give you the down and dirty.
- Chiropractic Care: I have personally seen my emotional and physical health steadily improve for acute and chronic conditions alike.
- Just like any profession, there are those that are good at their job, and some that are not. Do your research, ask for referrals, and read reviews before selecting a chiropractor.
- Acupuncture: We have personally experienced tremendous results from acupuncture. I am always shocked at how immediate the therapy can improve conditions (though, this may not be the case for everyone).
- Massage Therapy: Similar to chiropractic and acupuncture, massages help the body from a systemic perspective. The different types of hormones released during massage can be an immediate way to improve your emotional status. Massage also helps release toxins that can impair your overall emotional state.
Keep in mind, healing and achieving optimal health naturally takes time. So be patient and don’t get frustrated even if you have lapses in your condition. Sometimes your body has to understand how to properly use all of the good things you are doing.
One of the primary symptoms of depression is the need to sleep, constantly. Ironically, depression and the Winter Blues can also cause insomnia.2
The objective is to improve sleep quality and increase quantity without going overboard. Optimal sleep can improve cognitive function, alertness, positive thoughts, and overall energy (not including the benefits to the body).
Some actions you can take to get you sleeping better:
- Reduce blue light exposure before bed: Blue light occurs naturally (sun) and artificially (fluorescent lights, cell phone, computer, etc.). Your circadian rhythm (internal clock) is thrown off when you are exposed to blue light close to bed by tricking your body into thinking its daytime.
- To keep you from being duped by blue light, use the “Night Shift” setting on your cell phone at night, and/or buy a pair of blue light filtering glasses to wear in the evening.
- Carb Cycling: This is another fantastic way to improve circadian rhythm while simultaneously improving overall sleep quality. Carb cycling is used to control cortisol levels (a stress hormone that controls blood sugar/energy levels and hormonal uptake) throughout the day to ensure that they are at their lowest when you are going to sleep.
- The interesting thing is that cortisol levels are usually inversely related to carbohydrate intake. If you eat a lot of carbs, your cortisol (energy) decreases.
- To learn more about carb cycling, check out Dr. Alan Christianson’s book: The Adrenal Reset Diet. The secret is to eat high quality carbs in increasing increments throughout the day to have maximum energy in the morning and minimal energy by night.
- Use a dawn light for an alarm clock: Dawn light alarm clocks are designed to mimic the rising sun. The point is to reduce the startling effect of a standard alarm clock, and help you to awaken gradually as if you were sleeping outdoors.
- Take a warm Epsom salt bath before bed: Epsom salt is a form of magnesium, which is typically a nutrient many people are deficient in. Baths in general are relaxing, but adding the magnesium to the water promotes muscle relaxation and recovery, plus you get the extra benefit of a huge detoxification boost!
- When enough Epsom salt is in the water, the magnesium will trigger an increase in glutathione. This chemical helps the liver (the primary detoxifier) to crank through all of the toxic build-up that has been collecting over time.
- Drink plenty of water, especially if you have not done one before.
If you suffer from something like the Winter Blues, this may be an indication that you have a nutrient deficiency.
My go-to supplements, based on what has worked for me, are Vitamin D and its co-factors for safe and optimal usage, NAC, and Omega Fatty Acid Balancing.
Let’s get the show started with the tricky one… Vitamin D.
Research has demonstrated the positive emotional effects of having high enough doses of vitamin D in the body. Interestingly though, researchers are not clear as to why vitamin D has an effect on the brain, aside from the presence of vitamin D receptors.3
Vitamin D is normally generated by converting sunlight. In the winter though, sunlight can be especially hard to come by. Supplementing with vitamin D, can be highly effective when carefully optimized through blood work and balancing out levels with a doctor.
In order to do this safely though, it needs help from several other vitamins and minerals. As a result make sure you are getting enough vitamin K (especially K2), calcium (we do not supplement), and magnesium.
Next on the list is an interesting one: NAC.
NAC stands for N-Acetyl-Cysteine and is one supplement that definitely flies under the radar. NAC has been specifically studied for benefits in people with depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and anxiety.4
NAC is also used in the production of glutathione (one of the main detoxifiers) in the body, as well as, hosting other healing properties especially those relating to gut disorders.
Typical doses of NAC for daily intake range anywhere form 200-600 mg (1x daily), but can range as high as 800-1800 mg. I currently use this one at a dosage of 600 mg per day.
Last but not least, Omega Fatty Acid Balancing.
Probably the most popular supplements on the internet, Omega-3 fatty acids (usually in the form of fish oil). One reason for its popularity is that it can benefit those suffering from symptoms of depression, partly because it is an anti-inflammatory compound.
Instead of just recommending Omega 3 for everyone, I like to offer a strategy. Most research points to Omega-3 as being THE Omega fatty acid with the most benefits, but this might be partially misunderstood.5
The typical American diet usually contains large quantities of Omega-6 fatty acids, which are pro-inflammatory.
Normally inflammation is touted as a bad thing. Oh no!
But pro-inflammatory Omega-6 comes primarily from oils like those found in large quantities of the Standard American Diet (The real SAD!)…
So, what if instead of the SAD, you ate:
- Salmon or sardines once or twice a week
- Hemp, chia, or flax seeds
- Avocado, olive, and coconut oils instead of canola, corn, and soy
- Plenty of greens like spinach and kale
All of these foods are high in… you guessed it, Omega-3! Which then means you might not need as much Omega-3 from supplements like fish oil.
The trick is to ensure balance.
Research is incomplete, but the folks I trust believe that a 3:1 Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acid ratio is ideal for the body (compared to 20:1 for average American on SAD). The Omega-3 fatty acids keep inflammation in check so your body can function as intended.
Everyone’s worst nightmare, aside from a big diet change… pumping iron.
Don’t give me that look! I am just letting you know that exercise, especially cardio, can vastly improve symptoms of depression and your life as a whole.
Exercise benefits are pretty widely known, but for the sake of refreshing you:
- Promotes positive attitude
- Triggers endorphin production and boosts mood
- Aids in detoxification (sweat)
- Burns excess energy
- Boosts immune system
- Improves memory
So clearly it makes sense to care. How to care is the trouble.
Exercise does not always need to be well structured. We just need our heart rates up and to be active for at least 30 minutes per day, and if you sit at a desk most of the day, 60+ minutes per day is best.
I find that bating a buddy into working out is the easiest way to stay on track because they can help hold you accountable. Plus, you get to apply the two-for-one deal and improve a friend’s health as you improve your own!
Research continues to study the benefits of light therapies and the reasons why light is so crucial to our health. If you think about it, we really weren’t meant to sit in a house or an office all day with little exposure to light.6
Increasing light exposure can have huge benefits for tackling the Winter Blues and other forms of depression. If sunlight is unavailable, try a White Light Therapy Lamp. The prices usually range anywhere from $70-$300 but look for something that fits the following criteria:
- White light – not blue or red, as white has the most research backing its safety and effectiveness
- 10,000 lux or higher
- Pay attention to distance recommendations
- Having the capability of the light shining down at you from above can potentially increase the benefit
- Read the reviews (good and bad) to get some anecdotal data
I encourage you to try this, especially since it is a simple and non-time-consuming way to improve symptoms of depression with no risk (aside from money).
* Caution: there is A TON of not-so-good information out there surrounding safety and effectiveness of essential oils. As always, do your research, ask questions, and ultimately make the decision that you are most comfortable with.
Last but not least, aromatherapy. Many people find immense healing when it comes to essential oils and aromatherapy.
In fact, essential oils are one of the fastest ways to gain a small pick me up and can be an extremely powerful tool.
Personally, we use essential oils by diffusing. Regarding Winter Blues, I would try the following essential oils (and we typically use the brand I link as well):
The above-mentioned essential oils are intended to aid the relief of symptoms from depression, and often carry additional benefits. The Blues Buster is more of a “pick-me up” blend, and not specific to depression per se, but it is called Blues Buster after all, so it just fits too well not to mention it.7
A Recipe for Beating the Winter Blues
If I were still struggling with the Winter Blues, especially as badly as I used to, I would try out the things that were easiest to control and quickest to implement. My plan would look a little bit like this:
- White Light Therapy
- Drink enough water (high quality)
- Reduce blue light exposure at night
- Aromatherapy using Melissa (morning) and Frankincense (night)
- Epsom Salt baths – 2 times per week
- Salt water flush – 2 times per month (when feeling especially low)
- Supplement accordingly
- Carb cycle to improve circadian rhythm
- Exercise with high intensity (without over-taxing my body) 3 days per week, and getting some other aerobic exercising in for a total of 60 minutes per day
- Get my healing diet started ASAP!!!
However you decide to take action, I know you can find peace and happiness in the end. Using these tips can help you achieve it.
Have you been plagued by the Winter Blues or depression? What type of things have helped you to overcome your symptoms? Let us know in the comments below (maybe someone else can find use from your story)!
7. Schnaubelt, K. (1998). Advanced aromatherapy: the science of essential oil therapy. Rochester, Verm.: Healing Arts Press.
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Hey there! I’m Frank, co-founder of Healthy Habits Reset. My wife, Anna, and I have battled our respective autoimmune diseases for over a decade. We have fumbled through and eventually learned that REAL mental and physical healing requires you to be your own advocate, to think for yourself, and to determine what information works for YOU.
We created this blog to teach everyone how to use the resources and tools available to make the best personal decision surrounding any health, faith, and lifestyle choice.