As they say in Game of Thrones…”winter is coming!” We are in the heart of fall, and as the amount of sunlight changes, it has a dramatic impact on how we feel and our energy levels. It’s normal to want to sleep longer in the winter time and hermit – after all that’s how our ancestors survived the harsh winter. Unfortunately, we can’t survive like that in this day and age. Work goes on, bills go on, stressors keep coming – in other words, life doesn’t slow down. We can’t sleep in everyday, or choose not to go to work. So how can we prepare for our body’s changes in energy and mood in response to the changing season? Here are some things I try to do, and encourage my patients to do as well:
1. Vitamin D3 Supplementation: As colder days arrive, so too do cloudier days in most of Canada and the US. Our body uses the sun’s rays to produce active vitamin D, and when our body is stripped of this, vitamin D levels start to decline. This affects our ability to fight off colds and flus, to prevent the growth of cancers, and even affects our bone health.
2. Adequate consumption of protein: Protein sources such as chicken, turkey, and tofu contain the building blocks of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. When we’re deficient in these “feel good” compounds, we start to feel depressed. In fact, many antidepressant medications work by modulating the amount of serotonin and dopamine available to your nerves. Eating adequate amounts of chicken, turkey and tofu in the winter time can help improve your mood.
3. Adequate sleep: Sleep impacts your mood, and your ability to fight off infections – two of the biggest concerns of the winter season! Although we can’t sleep as much as our ancestors did during winter time, we can try to get adequate sleep (7-8 hrs/night).
4. SAD Lamps: For people with season affective disorder (feelings of depression that are clinically diagnosed to be due to the change of seasons due to low sunlight exposure), these lamps can really help. They are designed to put out a similar light spectrum to the sun, thus mimicking the effect the sun’s light has on the human body. It’s backed up by research too, but it’s important to go to a Naturopathic Doctor or MD who knows about SAD lamps. There are certain criteria that need to be met when looking for a SAD lamp to help season affective disorder. For example: does it use white or blue light? Does the lamp filter most UV light? How close do you need to be in order for it to be effective (some lamps need to be so close to your body that they can actually cause eye damage).
5. Seasonal Cleanse: A two week cleanse to kick off eating healthy and incorporating herbs and foods that better mood and increase your immunity is a great way to kick-start the winter season. In fact in China, many people have the traditional “Change of Season Soup” during the fall and spring seasons – it’s a concoction of various herbs known to boost immunity.
6. Reach out: Winter tends to make us hermit and keep to ourselves, but in our individualistic Western society, that can actually have a detrimental impact on our mood. Reach out to your friends and family – social interaction is an important human need! And most of all, if you are feeling depression, reach out a health care provider!
Dr. Rahim Kanji is a Naturopathic Doctor practicing in Toronto, Canada. He has a passion for evidence-based natural medicine, specifically empowering his patients to make nutritional changes which create dramatic impacts to their health. For more information, visit his website at www.rahimkanjind.com.