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Tackling Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) With Plant Medicine

Person displaying symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Dry January, Veganary, New Year’s resolutions – this time of year is full of good intentions. For some of us however, the start of the year is truly a day-to-day struggle, enduring debilitating mental and physical symptoms.

Commonly known as ‘Winter Depression’ or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), sufferers can expect symptoms of SAD to first appear in late Autumn, just as the days get shorter and there are less daylight hours. Symptoms can become more severe during the months of December, January and February and can include: persistent low mood, irritability, feelings of despair, guilt or worthlessness, and even loss of pleasure or interest in normal daily life. Craving carbohydrates and continual tiredness can become a constant focus if you suffer from SAD. Some of the more long-term detrimental side effects of suffering from SAD are: social withdrawal, substance abuse, failing mental health, and even suicidal thoughts or behaviour.

A specific cause of SAD or the reason as to why some of us suffer from it and others don’t, remains unknown. But there are some factors that may play a role. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in our serotonin levels. Serotonin is a brain chemical that directly affects our mood. When serotonin levels are low we can breach into a depressive state. Melatonin levels can also be disrupted by the seasons. Low melatonin levels can have a damaging effect on our sleep patterns and mood. Additionally, our natural circadian rhythm, can be disrupted by reduced sunlight, causing imbalance in our internal clock which can lead to feelings of depression or low mood. A family history of SAD or a preexisting mental health condition can leave you more vulnerable to experiencing SAD during these winter months.

What can I do to help myself?

The good news is that thanks to the awareness and growing discussion around SAD, there are more and more achievable tips and lifestyle-choice solutions to help us through the dark months. Some helpful changes include:

– Taking vitamin D supplements from October for 90-120 day
– Introducing heated or hot yoga as part of your exercise routine in the winter months will add heat to your body and calmness to your mind
– Limiting your alcohol and sugar levels during the winter months
– Sharing a space with a salt or heat light daily for 30 minutes (ideally in the morning) can help manage the imbalance of melatonin and serotonin levels in your body.

Some of the more innovative solutions to SAD are things like Lumie Bodyclock or the Lumie Arabica Light Box. Both pieces of technology are modern solutions that can help you deal with the lack of daylight and will maximise your exposure to vitamin D.

How can plant oils help?

Unsurprisingly, I believe that aromatherapy is a great choice to aid and relieve the symptoms of SAD. For those that don’t know, essential oils are plant-based therapeutic oils which can positively affect your mind and body when passed though the limbic brain by inhalation, or your blood stream via massage. The added advantage of opting to treat your SAD with an aromatherapy massage is that your mind and body receive the attention of touch. The powerful release of healthy hormones through human touch, while simultaneously stimulating both the lymphatic and circulatory systems, helps to warm up your body and drain excess toxins from your muscles. Inhalation as your aromatherapy delivery method is also an effective way to stimulate the brain and limbic system and can be easily done daily at home with a diffusor, or simply taking deep inhalations of a blend on a tissue.

So which oils are best for SAD? Diffusing citrus oils can bring a sense of light and energy to your home and mood. Blend: lime, bergamot, sweet orange, and grapefruit. Diffuse in your living space or office in the morning to brighten your day, or early afternoon to keep you motivated through the afternoon slump.

A perfect pre-bed massage or bath aromatherapy recipe is an aromatic blend of lavender and rosemary. Lavender is known to ease stress, insomnia, and depression, while rosemary is said to effectively ease anxiety. Together they are great in tackling low moods. Patchouli essential oil will add balance and stillness to the blend and your mind. Lemongrass is the fourth essential oil in this blend. Although not typically an anti-depressant, lemongrass is a radiant and uplifting plant oil. It rounds off this blend that will hopefully get you through the long winter months.

Blend 2 drops of each essential oil with 100ml of vegetable oil to create an ideal blend for your SAD oil.

Essential oils are potent plant material. Never use essential oils undiluted on skin. Always store essential oils in a dark place and well out of reach from children or vulnerable adults. If irritation occurs consult your doctor immediately. If you’re concerned about your or a loved-one’s mental health, do not hesitate to contact a health professional.

Love Lucy A x

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