Tips for Combating Seasonal Affective Disorder [Episode #447]
Today’s solocast topic is: Tips for Combating Seasonal Affective Disorder
Beauties, we’re deep into the winter months, and you’re probably feeling it. This is usually the time of year when SAD, or seasonal affective disorder, hits. The excitement of the holidays and the new year are over, and all that we can see ahead are a few more months of cold weather, short days, and snow (depending on where you live)!
This is when the seasonal depression starts creeping in – you feel tired, sad, sluggish and zapped of energy and motivation. Not only is SAD difficult to deal with mentally and emotionally – it can also be very easy to fall off track and lose motivation when it comes to healthy and whole living.
That’s why I want to share some tips for feeling your best and boosting your mood during this difficult time of year.
Topics Covered In Tips for Combating Seasonal Affective Disorder
#1. Why seasonal affective disorder happens and its symptoms
#2. Who is most affected by SAD
#3. Lifestyle practices for combating SAD
#4. Diet recommendations for combating SAD
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Kimberly Snyder: Hi beauties. Welcome back to our Monday solo cast episode, where today our topic is Tips for Combating Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is also known as SAD or SAD. I wanted to talk about this topic today because obviously you don’t need me to tell you that we are in the depths of winter and depending on where you live, it may be absolutely bone-chillingly freezing. And depending on your work schedule, if you’re going out to work in the morning and you’re working till 5:00 or 6:00 or later, it may actually be dark by the time you leave work, which is a super downer and can feel just like… So when you leave you’re cold and it’s dark and all these things can contribute to being vulnerable to seasonal affective disorder of course.
Kimberly Snyder: I also thought it was really important that we talk about this topic because research shows according to Dr. Norman Rosenthal, who studies seasonal depression, that SAD affects about 14 million Americans alone and about 14% of adults experience SAD or SAD symptoms. What’s interesting to note is that about 75%, three quarters of people who report being affected by seasonal affective disorders are women. So I want to get into this today, whether you may be wondering if you have a mild case of it or a more severe case, if this applies to you or if there’s a friend, acquaintance or coworker, whatever that something’s going on with them. This information can be very helpful. We’re going to get into some tips and tools in just a moment to help us on the way.
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Kimberly Snyder: Before we jump in though, I want to give a quick shout out to our fan of the week. Her name is Girl Friday and she writes, “Equally informed and inspiring.” So Girl Friday first of all, thank you so much for your review. Thank you for showing that a review can be short and to the point and equally effective and gets the job done and so appreciative, so much love, beauty. Wherever you are in the world, I send you a big virtual hug, big kiss on the cheek and thank you, thank you, thank you.
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Kimberly Snyder: And beauties, for your chance to also be shouted out as the fan of the week and for me to read your beautiful words, please just take a moment or two out of your day, just like Girl Friday, your review on iTunes can be one sentence or less. But just writing a review on iTunes for us is a beautiful way to support the show and just energetically, just a wonderful thing to do. We all know these days how important reviews are, so I thank you so much in advance. And while you’re at it, please be sure to subscribe to our show. That way you don’t miss out on any solo casts or interviews or Q&A podcasts. It’s a great form of self-care just to have that constant stream of inspiration coming in and that way you can click and listen whenever it’s convenient in between times, line times, car times, walking times, whatever, and get that positivity in.
Kimberly Snyder: All right, all that being said, thank you beauties, so much, so excited about our community and sharing and we’re all here to support each other. And I love to share about my journey because I think stories and sharing our stories are really powerful way to connect and to help each other. I’ll just say that I lived in New York before I moved to LA, so now it’s been about six years I’ve been in LA and the winters were really, really hard for me. I mean, I lived in New York, I grew up in New England, I grew up in Connecticut, so I never took to winter. And I was never officially “diagnosed” with seasonal affective disorder, but I definitely got down and I felt down in the winter and I definitely over eight different points, different foods, sometimes it was a lot of nuts when I was a raw foodist. A lot of heavier foods when I was not. But when I get into this research, I thought, “Oh, I wish I knew about some more of these tips and tools because maybe that would’ve helped me enjoy the winter more.”
Kimberly Snyder: Again, I think that just like any mood disorder, there’s a spectrum. So maybe you or your loved one or your acquaintance experiences are more defined extreme case of seasonal affective disorder and maybe it’s just more mild or just some of the symptoms apply to you. Either way it is very important to get support because winter is long and we want to enjoy our lives and to feel good and to feel our vitality all year long, every season. Let’s get into it before I get too deep.
Why seasonal affective disorder happens and its symptoms
Kimberly Snyder: First of all, you may be wondering, well what is it in the first place? It is a type of depression. This is according to the National Institute of Mental Health. So there’s a rhythm to it. It’s a depression that comes with the seasons and for the majority of people that experience it, it comes in late fall or early winter and it ends in the spring. So it bookends the darkest, coldest months of the year where again, we can start to feel our mood tanking. And there’s a couple different technical reasons for this.
Kimberly Snyder: First of all because there’s less sunlight, we are getting less vitamin D and this definitely affects serotonin activity, which is a neurotransmitter that helps us feel happy and light and just a much higher general sense of wellbeing. And because of the less sunlight, there can be a disruption in the production of melatonin and serotonin in our bodies, which are two hormones that also greatly affect mood and sleep. So it’s not in your head, it’s not just something specific to you. There’s millions and millions of people that are experiencing this, so you’re definitely not alone. And some of the symptoms include low energy, overeating, oversleeping, social withdrawal, anxiety, cravings for carbs and sugar, trouble concentrating and feelings of despair and sadness. When you hear this list again, maybe one or maybe all of these apply to you.
Kimberly Snyder: I remember feeling like it was hard to get out of bed sometimes in the morning and it was just so freezing. And then I had to walk to the subway. I definitely didn’t have a car there, so it was just this fight for months to feel comfortable, to feel okay. I definitely turned to food. There’s been ups and downs on my health journey. Even when I got past the big constipation, the bigger weight gain part of my life, there were some fluctuations for sure and winter was the time where I remember I would eat a lot of coconut curry and again, a lot of nuts when I was a raw foodist. So, I think it’s a very vulnerable time for a lot of us.
Kimberly Snyder: As I mentioned, I don’t want you to suffer. I don’t want you to feel like the whole season sucks because winter is long. It goes on months and months and months. And once we get past the holidays, which can feel like a lot’s going on and it’s distracting and there’s parties and there’s events, then it’s like, “Oh crap, it’s still cold and it’s even darker and I’m in this and I’m in it for a long time.” Let’s talk about some positives, let’s talk about some tools and ideas that can actually help you start feeling better.
Lifestyle practices for combating SAD
Kimberly Snyder: The first is to get sunshine or to try sunlight therapy. And again, back to the research, sunlight is a form of medicine in my opinion. It’s a form of nourishment. It is the source of… The source, depending on… People believe in a divine power or intelligence, but the sun is supplying life on the planet. The sun is creating the plants or nourishing the plants through the process of photosynthesis, which is basically trapping the light energy and creating energy. It’s the basis of all food on the planet. Whether you are plant-based like myself or not, the sun is the direct route of food and energy on the planet.
Kimberly Snyder: Of course, there’s factors to consider like skin cancer and burning and overexposure, but healthy sunlight and exposure to sunlight and seeing the sun again has been proven again and again in research to be important for healthy hormones, healthy moods, vitamin D. So, if you can get outside at all, do so. And that may not be at all relevant to your life right now. So I’m just saying any type of exposure to the sun is going to keep up with that hormonal production and the vitamin D.
Kimberly Snyder: There is research here now… Hold on, don’t scoff at me yet. I just want to mention there’s research that shows that there is a lot of benefit to going on a sunrise walk. I laugh because if it’s 5:00 AM and it’s freezing outside and the light is just coming out, unless you are an extremely motivated person, this may feel like something that you would never, ever, ever do in a million years. I just want to bring it up to you guys because there is research around it because it’s a time to get light and there’s also research around these magical transition times of sunrise and sunset, where there can be a positive effect on the neurotransmitters in our brain and there’s some real feel good opportunities there. But again, I get it. Your warm bed is calling you and it’s 5:00, 5:30 in the morning and there’s no way. Try to go on a lunchtime walk.
Kimberly Snyder: Again, this may or may not apply to your life, but if you can bundle up, cover up your head, cover up your throat with a nice cozy scarf so that you protect yourself against Vata energy and go outside for a brisk walk in the middle of the day at lunchtime. This can be a way where you’re getting some peak, beautiful sunlight on your face and your eyes, you’re seeing it, you’re bathing it in a little bit. And again, that has some medicinal therapeutic value for sure. Now if this is just not happening and you’re saying to me, “Oh, it’s so busy. I can’t get up, I’m not going to go for lunch or it’s freezing.” One of the things you can do is get a light therapy box and this can help to stimulate sunlight without exposing you to the freezing cold to the wind. And especially if your skin is sensitive to UV rays, which can be harmful in excess.
Kimberly Snyder: A study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry found that light therapy boxes are just as effective against seasonal affective depression as antidepressant drugs. This is great news, beauties. You can invest in a light therapy box and we are linking to some in the show notes or you can take meds. And of course medication can be lifesaving and super important, but I always say it’s a last resort. And if something is just as effective and you don’t have to process it through your liver, you don’t have to experience any side effects from ingesting a pill, it’s best to go for the alternative. So try the sunlight walks or try some of the light boxes and either way just be conscious about getting more light into your life.
Kimberly Snyder: The next is to get some exercise and to get moving. This is so important beauties, especially with this disorder because of the circulation, because of the endorphins, because of the mood boosting properties of exercise. A study published in the Journal of Psychiatry Research examined the effects of women who exercised by peddling on a stationary bike and found them to have a reduction in sad-like symptoms and also found them to have the same results as another group of women who received light therapy. This study didn’t look at what happens if you combine therapy and exercise, but I bet it would be even stronger and better in my hypothesis.
Kimberly Snyder: How do you exercise this time of year? I think that if you can get some exercise outside, let’s say it’s on the weekends and you hit it at the warmest time of day, midday, maybe go on to hike or a walk with a friend or a loved one. You’re getting some exercise, you’re getting fresh air, you’re getting some circulation to your brain, you’re boosting those good feel, mood-boosting chemicals, the endorphins. But again, I get it if it’s freezing and you don’t want to chafe your skin and feel that uncomfortable. Getting inside for yoga, yoga practice, a home yoga practice, a stationary bike, going to the gym, going to a class that feels good to you, going dancing. 30 to 60 minutes is generally what was shown in the research to give you some of the positive effects against seasonal affective disorder. So anytime you can work it in and maybe variety works for you, just fit it in and get the benefits.
Kimberly Snyder: Next is third tip. Increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids. Now, there is something in our nutritional system called essential fatty acid ratio. And this is the ratio between how many omega-3 fats we’re getting into, how many omega-6 fats we’re getting. And the standard American diet, which is also a SAD acronym, we tend to get way too many omega-6s and these primarily come from vegetable oils, which are in a lot of junk food and a lot of processed foods and we don’t tend to get enough of omega-3s. This can actually lead to a lower mood, it disrupts a healthy essential fatty acid ratio, and this can also lead to symptoms of depression.
Kimberly Snyder: One of the studies that I want to link to is from the Integrative Medicine Research Journal, and it shows that boosting omega-3 can help the treatment of depression and related symptoms.
Kimberly Snyder: How do we get omega-3s, especially if we’re plant-based? No worries, there’s lots of great sources. I’ve been plant-based now for almost 12 years, so trust me if I can do it, you can do it too. Some of the great form are flax seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds, avocado, coconut oil. You can also take a DHA, EPA based, which is what omega-3s derive in your body or create in your body from algae. So you can take an algae-based, omega-3 basically is what it is. I do that especially now because DHA is a very important nutrient to have while you’re pregnant. I’m six months pregnant right now, but pregnant or not, this may be a great add-in, especially if you’re starting to feel lower in mood and especially if it’s starting to feel sustained and you’re looking for some support in a supplement form. I definitely recommend that.
Diet recommendations for combating SAD
Kimberly Snyder: I also make it a point to have hemp milk quite a bit and to put chia seeds in my power protein smoothie, which I’m definitely drinking almost daily at this point to boost protein intake just to get my grams up. So chia seeds are great food to have around and if you are ingesting a non-dairy milk in any significant form, hemp milk is a great choice whether you make it yourself or you get store-bought.
Kimberly Snyder: Tip number four is to avoid stimulants. This is that up and down, that erraticness that we want to avoid because even though it may feel attempting at first like something is helping you, it’s giving you a boost, we all know that it can result in an energy crash. That’s usually what happens. It’s a peak and then it’s a drop and especially drinking caffeine sometimes by 2:00 PM can actually disrupt your sleep. We know there’s a half-life for breaking down caffeine. And so it affects you hours and hours later and that’s a big, huge bummer when sleep is such an important way to maintain your mood and your hormones as well. So it’s kind of goes around and around in a circle. You want to feel good, you feel sluggish, so then you reach for more caffeine and sugar and over and over again.
Kimberly Snyder: We want to have comfort, we want to nourish ourselves with energizing drinks, warm drinks that don’t necessarily have caffeine. I think some great ones are ginger, which is circulation boosting and warming, tulsi or basil tea, and these don’t have caffeine so they’re not going to give you those ups and downs. Give it a try. Maybe you need to do a little bit of a caffeine detox, but after the first few days, I have found this with clients time and time again, if you could just push past it and cut back, cut back, cut back, you’d be surprised at how much more balanced you feel. It feels so much better not to feel addicted to anything, whether it’s caffeine or sugar or whatever. So try cutting back to one cup of coffee a day and you can cut down further if you like.
Kimberly Snyder: I said, I have a little bit of caffeine. I drink green tea, but I personally don’t drink coffee. I also do eat chocolate of course, but there was a time where I was eating a lot of chocolate and I did do a chocolate detox. So for me, sometimes I go in periods where I cut something out 100% and just let myself reset. I’ve also done this with salt. I have a salty tooth and in the past I’ve gone for some periods, like a week or so where I don’t have any salt and then I reset and it’s amazing how salty everything tastes. So you could try the same thing for yourself with the caffeine.
Kimberly Snyder: Now tip number five is foods. Eating the right foods to treat seasonal affective disorder. And of course food is our first cornerstone here at Solluna. Second is body, third is emotional wellbeing, fourth is spiritual growth and food is… It all affects everything in our lives. It’s just important that we don’t take a one-dimensional approach like food is everything, or exercise is everything because that’s what I think we miss out on the best, best results and the best benefits. I’m so passionate about sharing this holistic approach because from the depths of my being, from the bottom of my heart, I really do believe that this is the way to feel and look your very, very best. So food is fundamental here. Food is going to affect your moods and your energy.
Kimberly Snyder: From the Ayurvedic perspective, the winter minds are governed by Vata Dosha, which is the wind. Vata energy, it’s exacerbated by the cold and the dryness. This can contribute to the lack of energy and the sleeplessness and the indigestion. It’s very important that we eat for the season to balance our bodies and pacify Vata. Whether or not you practice Aryuveda, this philosophy is still effective in treating seasonal affective disorder.
Kimberly Snyder: I found that eating seasonally and that’s what I liked the most about Aryuveda. I think is the self-care aspect and the seasonality and it teaches so much about nourishment and self-awareness. So I like incorporating this, I like layering on top of how we’re all ready eating in Beauty Detox Solluna with some of the wisdom of Aryuveda as well. This is not the time to eat cold, dry foods ideally, this is where you want warm soups and stews, things that include foods like lentils and quinoa, which are easy to digest and nourishing. These are grounding, they are hydrating, they’re warming. If you use a little bit of coconut oil to saute the veggies before you make your soup, a little bit more oil this time of year is believed to help pacify Vata. We don’t have to overdo it. Of course, we don’t want to overdo oils, but we definitely want to nourish and lubricate our system to prevent coldness and to prevent dryness, which we’ll get and help with digestion and sleep and to avoid sluggishness.
Kimberly Snyder: So lots of root vegetables are nice to grounding. Throw some carrots and potatoes and beets in your stew. Check out [kitchari 00:23:45] recipe that I have for you on our website. It’s an easy one-pot dish that I still make all the time. You can vary the veggies, you can vary some of the spices, but it is amazing. It’s delicious. It’s super easy. Speaking of spices, also in the food category, also from the Ayurvedic perspective, there’s some really great seasonal spices to have this time of year which will help to boost digestion and circulation, which are very positive on your energy levels. Cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, ginger, and cloves are some of these wonderful spices to have this time of year. Just a little note, if you are pregnant like myself, you will want to lay off eating significant amounts of cinnamon at this time, but if you are in non-pregnant beauty, go ahead and make some cinnamon tea or add cinnamon both to savory and sweet dishes. I like it in both. And also experiment with cardamom in sweet and savory dishes.
Kimberly Snyder: Sometimes I feel like in the West we associate certain spices like cinnamon and cardamom just with treats and baked goods, but they actually add a lot of depth and flavor and interesting flavor profiles, especially when combined with other spices in savory dishes. You can check that out. For instance, I put cinnamon sticks in my doll when I’m making doll, which is basically a beautiful, simple, easy, delicious lentil dish and I love the undertone of cinnamon in it. It tastes really great to me.
Kimberly Snyder: I also think it’s important to start your day off with the beautiful hot water with lemon that we talk about so much in our community, which is giving you a boost of vitamin C. And if you look at the properties of lemon, I always say it’s almost like having sunshine in a fruit and squeezing it right into your lemon, into your water, right into your body. It’s so bright and fresh and talk about capturing, harnessing the sun energy, the color of it, the vitality, the freshness, the brightness. I mean, it’s amazing. So if you’ve gotten off track, get back on. If you are on track, you always take your hot water with lemon. Kudos, you’re doing amazing. Keep doing it. And that’s just a nice way to stay hydrated in the morning and to also give yourself that boost of sunlight and to feel really great. I also think this time of year from a physical standpoint… Those are my tips, but I want to add another one about heart opening. From an energetic standpoint, we were a lot more clothes in the winter and we tend to be a lot more covered and weighed down and our posture can also start to suffer. We can start to feel stooped and closed in. So I love the idea of just opening up very gently through your shoulders and your chest and just reawakening this energy around your heart chakra, or your [anahata 00:27:07] chakra, which is the opening expansive feeling. How we hold ourselves physically definitely has an impact on our mentality and it definitely has an impact on our moods and our presence and our sense of wellbeing.
I talk about it this month in our Solluna Circle. We have practices that we go through every month, different ones, different foods. We cover the four cornerstones through a monthly theme. So our theme in February is, Being Magnetic with Self-Love. And one of the practices I talk about from the body’s standpoint, it’s very simply holding your opposite elbows behind your back. I’m actually set up right now and do it. Or your forearms if you can’t reach. And this is a very gentle non-jarring heart opener.
Sometimes if we try to throw ourselves back into a deeper heart opener, it can feel jarring and too much and that doesn’t feel good. But just grabbing opposite elbows again, behind your back just lifts the energy and opens everything up and I think it’s really therapeutic and really beautiful and just a very gentle way to stay open and expansive. To me, depression feels like when everything is closing in and everything starts to feel finite and small and limited. So again, we just want to feel expansive through our hearts and through our energy. And that’s another little body practice you could do sitting down at your desk, or at the kitchen table, or wherever, the edge of your bed. You could do it before you meditate to get into a better posture as well. That’s something that sometimes I see…
My husband doesn’t really do it, but I see it with friends. I see what people like how hunched they are, and I always just want to gently push their shoulders back. I say, “Hey, just grab your elbows behind your back.” And they’re just, “Whew.” That’s gentle and it doesn’t feel like, “Oh my God, I have to go to yoga class and go into this deep wheel pose,” or something like that. [inaudible 00:29:20] or something that can feel like a lot. So try it for yourself. I hope that one or all of these tips speaks to you and feels good and something you can incorporate.
And remember that if you are experiencing extreme depression or extreme seasonal affective disorder, it’s important and it’s okay for you to speak with a professional about your depression because sometimes we also need that professional support. There’s a lot of great holistic and homeopathic doctors out there that may recommend other treatments like acupuncture and supplements and holistic healing methods that don’t necessarily involve medications. Some cases medications are warranted. So again, just something to keep in mind to see what’s best for you. You deserve to feel amazing all the seasons of the year and yeah, just to feel great and to feel into your power and to feel into your true beauty, which is your connection to your amazing unique self. That’s the beauty. That’s the real beauty.
I wish you a healthy, happy, beautiful day and rest of the season, rest of the winter. Remember, we are always here, I’m always listening. And you can ask questions right on mysolluna.com/askkimberly for our Thursday Q&A podcast. You can also connect with me on social, which is @_KimberlySnyder. I will see you back here next time, beauties. Thank you, thank you for being part of our community. Sending you lots of love and a huge, warm, virtual hug. See you on Thursday.