The Winter Blues


Winter can be a challenging time for many of us living in the southern parts of Australia. Wintertime coupled with numerous

lockdowns has been especially challenging. If you are feeling your mood has dropped considerably and you are struggling to find your inner light, then please reach out.

I am writing today about a common mood condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder – SAD, which can cause significant depressive symptoms. If you or someone you know is struggling deeply with depression, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the appropriate support systems. We are all in this together and we are all here to support each other.

SAD is a common mood disorder that affects individuals during Autumn and Winter months.
As the days get shorter, darker and colder we begin to spend less time outdoors and minimize our social contacts with others. This coupled with lockdowns has meant that both our outdoor time and social time has been extremely limited.

It has been a time when we can easily find ourselves becoming overwhelmed with the stress of all that is occurring in our world right now and this can lead to a state of depression or SAD.

Our energy levels decline and along with it, our enthusiasm and productivity. We crave more sweets and starches and in short; become affected by what is called “the winter blues”.

While it is normal to feel better when the days are longer and there are ample hours of sunshine to lift our mood, some of us are vulnerable to experiencing seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Those affected by SAD may feel down and fatigued, have difficulty concentrating, withdraw socially, over sleep, gain weight, have a lower libido, and experience decreased motivation, moodiness, nervousness, irritability, exhaustion, a sense of doom, despair, insomnia and have a desire to eat carbohydrate rich foods.

Women tend to be more affected and those between the ages of 20-40 seem to be the most susceptible according to studies.

Understanding SAD-how light affects our mood
Light is required for us to feel healthy and happy and light deficiency disrupts our circadian rhythm (our body’s internal clock). Light affects our neurotransmitters – chemical messengers- that tell us when to wake and when to sleep, and when to eat.

The lack of sunlight causes our brain to overproduce melatonin – our sleep hormone- causing lethargy and sleepiness during the day time. In fact, studies have shown that daytime melatonin levels are 2.5 times higher in individuals who suffer from SAD than those who don’t.

Low levels of serotonin – our feel good hormone- also increases the likelihood of feeling angry, depressed, and anxious. Serotonin levels decline as melatonin increases affecting our mood, appetite, and wakefulness.

Treatment options

Light Therapy
When natural light from our environment is unavailable to boost our levels of serotonin, light therapy can be a useful tool to combat SAD. I don’t know a great deal about light therapy, but I do know that you can easily purchase specially designed light boxes or light visors and when used in the morning or during the day can help to maintain a normal circadian rhythm and balance serotonin and melatonin levels. In fact, light therapy, has been shown to be as effective as fluoxetine (paxil) for patients suffering from SAD, with fewer side effects and faster onset of action. It is recommended to begin with 15 min per day and gradually increase exposure to 30-45 min. Many individuals show an immediate benefit from the use of these devices however it may take several days or weeks for some to experience a prolonged or sustained anti-depressant effect.

Diet and Exercise
Diet and exercise of course also play a very important role in mitigating the effects of SAD. Fun, non-restrictive exercise routines increase energy and can help to manage the weight fluctuations that occur during the winter months.

Although most of us crave carbohydrates during the winter months – likely as a way to increase our feel good hormones – the imbalanced blood sugar that results from eating too many carbs can leave us feeling even more fatigued and can further exacerbate more cravings and depression. Although any diet should be specifically tailored to the individual, a low glycemic index diet, with ample amounts of lean protein, is ideal for balancing blood sugar and maintaining lean body composition.

Natural Remedies
The treatment of depression and seasonal affective disorder requires a multi-targeted approach. The concentrations of the neurotransmitters serotonin and GABA in the brain are abnormally low in depression and anxiety, and thus the activation of these chemical messengers is the usual aim when treating these disorders with conventional anti-depressants (SSRI) and anxiolytic pharmaceutical medications. A multi-targeted approach using lifestyle, diet, supplementation of nutrients, herbs and Iight therapy are the best options we have.

There are many various herbal remedies that can be used alone or in synergy to safely and effectively control the complex symptoms of depressive disorders, without undesirable side-effects. Here are a few examples:

Valerian: Valerian exerts a feeling of calmness by affecting the GABA receptors in our brain. Using valerian during the winter months can help to improve feelings of anxiety and restlessness and can help with insomnia, a common complaint for those with depression or seasonal affective disorder

Magnolia: Magnolia bark affects the activity of both serotonin and dopamine, two neurotransmitters that are important to mood. Research indicates that magnolia on its own and in combination with ginger can help with depression.

Saffron & Turmeric: Research has confirmed that Saffron and Turmeric have shown that participants who received the saffron/Turmeric extract reported reduced depression scores and improved social relationships at the end of the study.

St Johns Wort: Traditionally used to treat depression, this herb improves mood by up-regulating serotonin receptors and improves the body’s response to stress. St Johns Wort also has a calming effect on the nervous system and a review of the research on this herb concludes that it has a clear effect on mild and moderate depression with fewer side effects.

Passionflower: Studies have found that passionflower increases the uptake of serotonin when combined with St Johns Wort. Alone, it is useful for anxiety and depression, having outperformed some anti-anxiety medications.

Nutritional Supplements

Vitamin D
Another very important consideration is the “sunshine” vitamin. A deficiency that affects almost 50% of the population worldwide, research support a connection between low vitamin D levels and SAD. Doses of 2000IU per day, or more under the recommendation of your naturopath can be very helpful for many people.


The brain and the liver usually make the necessary amount of SAM-e, but for people experiencing depression, this process may be impaired. Low levels of SAM-e results in decreased levels of serotonin, dopamine and other neurotransmitter activity commonly seen in clinical depression. SAM-e can help boost neurotransmitter activity, bringing about improvement in mood and relief from depression.

Fish Oils

Fish Oils contain Omega-3 fatty acids which can help to control mood disorders.
Scientists started to investigate this link when it was noticed that depression is less common in populations which consume large amounts of fish.
It is thought that because Omega-3s travel easily through the brain cell membrane, they interact with molecules which affect mood.
Also, they have anti-inflammatory properties which may play a role in boosting mood.

These are just a few supplements that may help to support healthy mood. Remember all supplements you take need to be checked for possible interactions with current pharmaceuticals and medical conditions. For further individualised advice please get in touch today. We are here to help as much as we can.

Take care and stay connected

Much love – Carly