It can creep in when you least expect it; it can disturb your sleep; it can make your waking hours more anxious. The cause? Winter—or, more specifically, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Some are not physically affected by it at all, others may carry on mostly unaffected, but if you find yourself feeling dread at winter’s arrival, it may be something worth paying attention to. I spoke to Melissa Bucking, a third-year student at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, about winter stress, anxiety, sleeplessness and SAD.
“Lack of sunlight is a huge culprit for sleeplessness and added stress in the winter,” says Bucking. “The sun helps in the production of serotonin and melatonin, which is a hormone that helps you sleep.” Though it’s usually associated with winter, SAD can affect you at any time of year. If you’re depressed, have low energy and don’t feel like yourself during a particular season, it could be a sign of SAD, she says. However, the treatments she suggests can also help anyone with feelings of stress and anxiety.
Bucking says that North Americans tend to be deficient in vitamin D, especially in the winter, and suggests supplementing with 500 to 1,000 IU a day. She also likes mood-boosting teas like lavender, passionflower and chamomile. “Lavender is a very calming herb, and there’s lots of research to support its anti-anxiety effects,” she says, adding that it can also be used as aromatherapy or spray. I love sudsing up with Le Petit Marseillais Lavender Honey Extra Gentle Shower Crème in the shower, or occasionally I’ll add a couple of drops into my nighttime bath to help soothe my skin and nerves after a long day.
Going for walks outdoors is also helpful, she says. “Anything that gets the blood moving is helping to lower your cortisol levels, which are your stress hormones. A lot of us have chronically high levels, and exercise is a way to rid you of stress.” She also likes the website calm.com, with its many meditation programs that tackle various types of stress, and its app, where users can take a quiz to rate their anxiety levels and get an appropriate meditation. “[Meditation] is a way to bring thoughts to rest before going to sleep. Journalling can help for some as well,” she says.
Other suggestions? If you’re going on diets to achieve that “beach body,” try to keep the salads and smoothies to a minimum. “They’re harder for your system to digest, especially in the winter,” Bucking says. She favours warm, cooked foods like soups and stews, because they’re easier to digest and their nutrients are more easily absorbed. One last thing: Your cortisol levels peak in the morning, so delaying your coffee an hour or two can help boost your energy and postpone the crash you get right before lunch.