Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or “winter blues” is a form of depression most often associated with the lack of light during the fall and winter months. It is very common and may be associated with low serotonin levels. We often associate low serotonin with depression, however low serotonin can also be associated with: anxiety, excessive worry and feeling overly stressed. There’s evidence of seasonality in anxiety and panic attacks, just as there is with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Another common sign of low serotonin is increased carbohydrate cravings, especially during the afternoon or evening.
Does this sound like you during the December holidays: Blah? Depressed for no reason? Stressed? Overwhelmed? Anxious? Eating tons of carbs and sugary foods? Perhaps it’s not only the stress of the holidays but is made worse by low serotonin?!
For many of my clients who are prone to having their serotonin levels decline in the winter months, if they don’t the following approaches to raise serotonin they end up with worsening depression and anxiety, and increased afternoon and evening sugar cravings.
So here are some tips to feel great during the holidays:
- use light therapy, using a full-spectrum lamp
- address any deficiency of vitamin D as there is evidence that it may improve seasonal anxiety and depression
- moderate exercise raises serotonin levels and relieves anxiety and depression, so it’s important to get some exercise during the winter months – join the gym or ideally do something outdoors like skiing.
- the amino acids tryptophan and 5-HTP, taken in supplement form are tremendously powerful for raising serotonin levels – dramatically improving depression and anxiety, and stopping those afternoon and evening cravings. If you are taking a SSRI, it’s important to work with your doctor before taking tryptophan and 5-HTP
- eat real whole foods with good quality protein
- eat to avoid blood sugar swings
- avoid junk foods and sugar (made easier by doing all of the above!)
- stay hydrated and drink enough water even if it is cold – research shows its helps to boost neurotransmitters levels
I live in the Sacramento area and from November onwards it’s pretty gloomy and grey. I personally feel much better mood-wise during winter when I am out telemark snow-skiing on the weekends – which appears to a combination of the exercise and being out in the bright white snow!