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Feeling More Bah Humbug than HO HO HO??

There may be complicated family obligations for some or a deep sense of loneliness and loss for others. Darkness prevails. Rain and cold and gloom set in. It’s barely sunrise when we leave for work and past sundown when we get home.

It may be the holidays, but it could be the lack of light that is contributing to your mood.

For many in the Pacific Northwest, these dark months bring a kind of depression – also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. Up to 20% of people suffer from SAD, which can range from mild moodiness to more serious symptoms such as fatigue, sleep disturbances, changes in appetite, even a lack of interest in life. SAD is thought to be caused by the decreased light of the winter months. It is more common the farther you are from the equator.

While more serious symptoms of depression may require medications, there are a number of natural remedies that are often helpful.

The first one is light. Installing full spectrum lights in your home can literally brighten your day. Many people benefit from light boxes which are designed to simulate daylight. The light box works best during the first hour after you wake. Set it about 20 inches in front of you but don’t stare into it. The treatment only takes twenty or thirty minutes while you read or eat breakfast. Check with your doctor if you have an eye disorder or are on medication that may be affected by bright light.

Exercise is one of the best ways to boost your serotonin – your “happiness” neurotransmitter. Twenty minutes of gentle aerobic exercise is all it takes. If you can, put on your raingear and take a walk or bike ride.

Vitamin D levels go down in winter – and here in PNW we are generally deficient even at the end of summer. So, make sure you take at least 2000 IU of vitamin D3 per day.

My favorite supplement for SAD is DL phenylalanine. 500-1000 mg in the morning can help boost your mood and make you feel more alert. Don’t do higher doses though, it can make some people jittery and raise their blood pressure. If you have a condition known as PKU, this is NOT for you.

If you are alone during the holidays, consider volunteering at the Food bank or other charitable organizations. Catholic Charities, Blanchet House, Hands on Greater Portland, Food Bank and other charities offer opportunities to volunteer. Giving improves one’s self esteem. I saw a program once on the secrets of happiness which showed that acts of kindness make a person feel happier about themselves – even if the recipient is unaware of who helped them.

So, if you struggle with the dark and the holidays, try a little light. Turn on some music and dance to it. Get out and help someone. There are a lot of ways to give.

By Dr. Jennifer Means ND, LAc

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