If you live in the upper reaches of the Northern Hemisphere, winter can often mean a seemingly interminable period of cold weather and short days. For many, the lack of sunshine, combined with life stress factors, can lead to depression.
Often people fail to recognize depression for what it is, treating it as a weakness or personality flaw rather than an illness. A “suck it up and get on with it” attitude often keeps people from labeling themselves as depressed, but this approach is counterproductive; failing to treat the disease only prolongs it.
Some of the signs of depression include: difficulty concentrating; persistent sadness or anxiety; inability to experience ordinary pleasure and enjoyment; irritability; change in appetite; ongoing fatigue and feelings of hopelessness. Learn how to cope with dark days naturally, without recourse to pharmaceutical anti-depressants which can cause serious side-effects ranging from nausea to reduced sex drive.
A depression which recurs annually during the winter, as well as feelings of depression which deepen during this period, are related to lack of vitamin D, which is delivered in its most powerful form through sunshine. Vitamin D increases brain levels of serotonin, which has been called the “happiness hormone.” Vitamin D also plays an important role in the body’s production of dopamine, a mood-lifting transmitter. One excellent source of vitamin D is fermented cod liver oil; just one teaspoon a day delivers a potent dose of this vitamin. Dietary sources include salmon, sardines and mackerel as well as organ meats and eggs (choose organic sources for maximum health benefit, of course). You may also want to try a vitamin D supplement to ensure that you get your daily dose.
St. John’s Wort
This plant has been used as a nerve tonic for centuries. Its name derives from the fact that its bright yellow flowers bloom around June 24, the day when the feast of St. John was celebrated in the medieval era, shortly after the summer solstice. Traditional herbalists have long held that a tincture made from this plant delivers some of the bright solar energy of that time of year. Recent medical research has confirmed its efficacy in treating anxiety as well as moderate depression.
Side-effects and precautions: St. John’s wort should not be taken in combination with pharmaceutical anti-depressants. Some studies suggest it may interfere with oral contraceptives. St. John’s Wort may increase the effect of sleeping medications and anesthetics. It may cause sensitivity to ultraviolet light. Also, for people suffering from bipolar disorder, taking this herbal remedy may increase mood swings.
In addition to taking St. John’s wort and vitamin D, take care that your lifestyle remains healthy and active throughout the winter months. Avoid eating too many “comfort foods” as many of these do not travel easily through the digestive tract, leaving the body constipated and with an overall sluggish feeling.
Try not to succumb to the temptation to hibernate through the winter; human bodies are not designed for months of stillness. You can try to develop a better relationship with cold weather by learning a winter sport such as cross-country or downhill skiing, ice-skating or hockey. Or commit to a regular program of indoor exercise, preferably something you enjoy enough that you won’t find excuses to avoid it. Try dancing or doing yoga if the prospect of getting on a treadmill fills you with boredom.
Also, take some time to perform emotional self-care. Express your feelings rather than suppressing them, whether by visiting a therapist, writing in a journal or talking with a trusted friend. Re-connect frequently with feelings of happiness, whether watching a funny movie or listening to music that lifts your spirit.
Often people believe they must either deny their emotions or end up drowning in their feelings. Learning to meditate can help provide a balanced path between those two extremes and enable you to feel that you are not at the mercy of your emotions.