The cold, grey winter months can be a challenge even for optimistic people. When days are short, nights are long and sunshine eludes us it’s no wonder that many of us struggle with an occasional short bout of “winter blues.”  But for people who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) the winter blues escalate into a chronic, debilitating type of depression that affects their ability to function normally. Symptoms of SAD typically begin in late fall and subside when the sunny days of spring arrive.

SAD sufferers are likely to experience weight gain, food cravings, sleep disturbances, lethargy, body aches and feelings of hopelessness. In extreme cases the depression is so profound that suicidal thoughts may occur.

People who live in areas with year-round warmth and sunshine (like Florida) are far less likely to experience SAD symptoms. Since most of us can’t afford to jet off to sunny climes several times a winter, it is important to learn to cope with the winter blues. Fortunately there are several affordable, safe and natural treatments that can reduce or eliminate SAD symptoms.

Light therapy boxes are often recommended by holistic health practitioners. The boxes, which are available without a prescription, imitate the healing effects of the sun and are believed to trigger a change in neurotransmitters that are linked to mood. Millions of people use them in their homes and offices during winter months. If you don’t have a light box you can make your environment sunnier and brighter by opening window shades or adding skylights to your home. Some people find that switching to halogen light bulbs for indoor lighting can help.   

Nutritional supplements, particularly those with melatonin or serotonin can also ease symptoms. Melatonin is a natural hormone that helps regulate the body’s circadian rhythms which affect sleep cycles. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that affects mood. Omega-3 fatty acids may also be helpful because they support healthy cognitive function, which helps prevent depression. Nutritional supplements are available at natural health stores and in some pharmacies.

Meditation and deep breathing exercises can help mitigate depression and improve sleep. Meditation boosts DHEA, a neurotransmitter that improves a person’s sense of psychological and physical well-being. It also increases the levels of GABA, which can help mitigate mood disorders.

Other natural treatments for SAD include acupuncture, yoga, guided imagery and regular exercise.  When you exercise, your body produces “feel good” chemicals called endorphins.

Because no two people are alike the treatment plan will vary from person to person. If you suffer from SAD, talk to your holistic practitioner to develop a protocol that is tailored to your needs. It is important to embrace natural remedies for SAD so you can enjoy the winter days feeling energized, rested and full of joy.