Natural Ways to Manage Seasonal Affective Disorder

Like many people I know, I have depression. More specifically, I have Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD as it's otherwise known. SAD is more common in people in northern climates and women are eight times more likely to have it than men. Like many of the 10 million Americans with SAD, my symptoms began in my early 20's while I was in university.

I first realized something was off in university when I would spend weeks in bed marathon-watching tv shows (before Netflix came along). Even then I knew no 21-year-old should be spending 18 hours a day in bed. I luckily had a great doctor on campus, and we decided on an anti-depressant with the least disruptive symptoms for my lifestyle. Unfortunately, this meant I had a month of side effects when I started taking them, and again when I would wean off in the spring. I decided it wasn’t worth the constant nausea, dizziness, and general fog I found myself in, so I started looking for other ways to manage my symptoms.

Read more about Seasonal Affective Disorder here

Over time and with the guidance of both my GP and naturopath, I've settled on a combination of therapy, supplements, and other non-pharmaceutical approaches. The following strategies aren't meant to be in place of a conversation with your medical practitioner, but in addition to. 

Natural ways to treat SAD

1. Supplements

It's important to figure out the right combination of supplements that works for you. As a vegetarian, I already watch my B12 (and take 5,000 mcg sublingually each day) and iron levels, but in the fall and winter months, I increase my magnesium intake to twice daily and vitamin D to 4,000 UI daily as well. I also take a vegetarian version of fish oil, but if you're not vegetarian, the real deal is a great way to get omega-3 fatty acids to help ward off depressive symptoms. Make sure you discuss any supplements with your doctor, especially if you're taking other medication. 

2. Light therapy

Since the lack of natural sunlight is believed to be a contributing factor in SAD, light therapy can be a great way to beat the blues. It's important to follow the directions and start small with light therapy. For SAD, the typical recommendation is a light box that gives off at least 10,000 lux (the amount of light). 

3. Exercise

While exercise is no substitute for treatment, studies have shown regular exercise to be an effective treatment for mild to severe mood disorders. The key components are length of time spent exercising and consistency. One study demonstrated five 30 minute or three 60 minute sessions weekly had an impact on depression. Exercise helps through a combination of endorphins and stimulating the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which may directly improve your mood.

4. Eat well and get lots of rest

SAD can take a toll on your physical health if you let it, so it's important to eat well and make sure you get plenty of sleep. Focus on fresh food as close to its natural state as you can and avoid processed foods full of sugar. If you struggle with motivation, make things as easy as possible. Smoothies are a great way to sneak in fruits, vegetables, and even depression-fighting nutrients with very little effort required. A go-to of mine: frozen fruit, a handful of kale or spinach, coconut water, and a banana, with chia, flax, and hemp seeds for an omega-3 boost. I'll often prep them on Sunday night so I have breakfast ready to go during the week. Other foods to consider include fish, eggs, coconut oil, nuts and seeds, bananas, and any dark leafy greens.

5. Therapy

While traditional therapy is typically associated with non-seasonal depression, it can be just as effective in treating SAD. I see my therapist year-round, and she helps me prepare for and deal with the symptoms of SAD well before they actually come on. It's important to acknowledge how you feel and prioritize your mental health, and a professional can help you see the bigger picture.

Read more about treating depression naturally here

Seasonal Affective Disorder can make the winter months seem especially long, but with the right treatment and support it can be managed. 

[Editor's Note: We recommend a high-quality magnesium supplement like Natural Calm, the best-selling magnesium supplement in the natural market,  from our partner Natural Vitality.

By Steph Davidson| December 16, 2016
Categories:  Care

About the Author

Steph Davidson

Steph Davidson

Steph is a writer and editor with a love of tea, books, and horror movies. Steph grew up under the impression that most meals came out of a box and had to contain some sort of animal protein. When an interest in a more environmentally friendly way of living led to her vegetarianism in 2012, she decided to teach herself how to cook. You can catch her kitchen wins (and the occasional opportunity for improvement) on Instagram @_stephinitely_.


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