As we dive into the fourth week of February and America is gripped by a massive winter storm, I am noticing some of my clients and others around me are beginning to display symptoms of seasonal affective disorder or SAD. This week, I want to take a look at what this is and address some tactics you can use to address this troubling mental health phenomenon.
Seasonal affective disorder is a mood disorder characterized by depression that generally occurs the same time every year. This condition is often found with inhabitants of areas of world where there is less sunlight at certain times of the year. Symptoms can include depression, hopelessness, and social withdrawl, which are also symptoms of major depressive disorder (MDD). Treatments can include Vitamin D therapy, photolight therapy, talk therapy and medication.
As with any depression issue, we need to be thinking of serotonin production and managing our stress hormones. This year and last year, unlike years past, COVID – 19 is making things worse as we are unable to leave our homes, socialize and carry on with our “normal” routines. The hard reality though is COVID -19 is probably not going to go away, so we are going to have to continue to be proactive with our health and find creative ways to manage stress.
Here are some practical tips:
If you’re feeling low during winter months, eating portion-sized amounts of healthy, unrefined carbs such as oatmeal, sweet potatoes, and fruit can help boost your serotonin production when it is slipping and lift your mood without the risk of a sugar binge or crash that can sometimes be triggered in the absence of both sunlight and carbs in people dealing with SAD.
Getting outdoors is another option. While it is very cold, and at times quite unpleasant, layered properly, one can enjoy a whole host of outdoors activities during the winter months. In fact, as a lifelong outdoorsman, being immersed in the outdoors all year round has allowed me to be able to resonate the changing vibrations of the seasons. Observing the animals, weather patterns and the overall changing scenery, one can anticipate and even predict what is next making the long days less long and less foreboding.
Wildly popular, light lamps and light therapy are useful tools in managing symptoms. Simply moving your workspace to a window can also help if this option is available. I have worked in a windowless office the last 10 years. I know how it can get. Simple things though like stepping outside or even taking 10-15 minutes by the window and watching the snow fall, birds play or clouds drift can make all the difference.
Finally, Vitamin D is often used to combat SAD symptoms. Deficiency can only be detected with a blood test and often point clients to talk to their doctors in September to get a baseline measurement and then maybe again in January or February. We only get a small amount of Vitamin D in foods and the majority is produced when our bodies are exposed to sunlight.
This week’s Menu:
This week’s menu is going to focus on some comfort foods made a bit more healthy.
Breakfast always has an oatmeal somewhere in the week. When I make oatmeal, it is usually Bob’s Red Mill Steel Cut Oats. Of late, I make a batch and half for 1.5 people. I will add 2 tablespoons of butter at the beginning of the cooking process and then some Swerve brown sugar substitute, whey protein isolate and some dried cranberries for good measure. Usually this comes out to around 465 kC and a macro breakdown of 30% fat, 43% Carb and 27% Protein.
In the summer, I will use a brand known as Picky Bars which makes an instant oatmeal mix. I will add 1 cup of Kefir, a watery yogurt drink and this usually comes out to be around 448 kC with a bit higher carb profile at 56%, 24% fat and 20% protein.
Meal 1 this week is a White Chicken Chili – https://whatgreatgrandmaate.com/paleo-white-chicken-chili/
Meal 2 this week is a Bacon Chicken Ranch Casserole – https://grassfedsalsa.com/blog/aip-bacon-chicken-ranch-casserole-gf-df-w30/
Since we are talking about Seasonal Affective Disorder, I want to discuss briefly snack options one can choose that will help improve Serotonin development. In my usual snack rotation are nuts and dark chocolate; oat bars of some kind of protein shake. Other snacks that help with Serontin production include:
Cacao(dark 80% and higher) chocolate
Sweet Potatoes (Think of an air fried sweet potato chip with some sea salt)
Spinach (Spinach can be blended into a smoothie)
Almonds (Best raw, unsalted)
Green Tea (actually Green, Black or Oolong all carry the same compounds, L- theanine, make a strong cup mid afternoon, no sugar)
Blueberries (great with a handful of almonds or walnuts)