With autumn comes beautiful colors, a crispness in the air and the hope of the holidays, but we also suffer through shorter days and for some, seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Like a sunflower that moves to face the sun, I’m most alive when it’s light outside. So, I have a hard time maintaining the same level of energy in the winter, especially when we set our clocks back. Getting up before the sun rises really takes it out of me, and driving home from work at 6:00 in the dark has my body feeling like it’s midnight and time to curl up under the covers.
The change in season can disrupt our balance. From fluctuations in sleep and mood regulating natural hormones like melatonin and seratonin to disruptions in our circadian rhythm (internal clock), we’re knocked off course. In fact, about 4% to 6% of the population may suffer from SAD, while 10% to 20% might have milder winter blues, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
But, you don’t have to suffer. As someone who struggles with energy depletion when the sun goes down, I’ve found a few ways to boost energy throughout the winter.
6 unique ways to beat seasonal affective disorder
Do back bends. In yoga, back bending poses like locust, camel and bow stimulate the nervous system, build heat and open the respiratory system increasing the flow of oxygen in the blood. Incorporating back bends into your daily practice can kick start your day.
Up your B vitamin foods. Foods with B vitamins play a central role in metabolism and the generation of energy. Plus, adequate intake of b-complex vitamins help regulate mood and sleep, leaving you feel happier and more energized throughout the day. B vitamins are found in whole unprocessed foods and are particularly particularly concentrated in meats such as turkey and tuna. Some other good ‘non-meat’ sources of B vitamins are: include kombucha, whole grains, potatoes, bananas, lentils, chili peppers, tempeh, beans, nutritional yeast, brewer’s yeast, and molasses.
Exercise. In addition to a daily yoga practice that includes back bends, even incorporating 20 minutes of exercise a day will help increase blood flow and oxygen, and decrease anxiety and depression. If the thought of going out into the cold for a walk or going to the gym have you running for cover, walk your own stairs. Put on your gym shoes and workout clothes, and walk up and down your stairs until your heart rate gets going. Work your way up to 15 minutes and follow it with some push-ups and dips to build endurance and muscle.
Try light therapy. When you’re driving to and from work in the dark, and sunlight seems like a memory, find a substitute. Light therapy or phototherapy is exposure to daylight. There are many products that mimic the wavelengths of natural daylight, and many swear by the effects of just a few minutes a day in front of a ‘light box.” There are also alarm clocks that mimic a sunrise which can cue the body to rise, regulating it’s internal clock.
Alternative medicine. From mind-body therapies like meditation, acupuncture and massage to essential oils, alternative medicines often help relieve symptoms of SAD. Inhaling the scent of essential oils like lavender and orange can rev you up and even your mood. Boosting your melatonin with over the counter supplements can help by regulating our sleep patterns.
Try ayurveda. Ayurveda believes that the strength of your digestive fire makes all the difference in how well you are able to convert food into energy and into healthy tissues. To support your digestive fire, eat warm, cooked foods that are natural to the season. Add digestive spices such as cumin, mustard seed, turmeric, cinnamon, and ginger. And avoid raw, dry foods and iced drinks.
In addition to these physical solutions for increasing energy levels, don’t forget to seek energy from within. Passion can agni (inner fire). By focusing on what you’re passionate about — painting, writing, family, yoga, home improvement — you will ignite your natural energy.
– Your Charmed Yogi
Many people recommend light therapy. I do this, but don’t know when to start. Sept.? Oct.? Nov.? What do you recommend?
I think it depends on when it starts to get dark early in your area. There are studies to suggest increasing your oral Vitamin D intake for the winter months (Dec – Mar), so you could take a similar approach. But, I use my light therapy alarm clock year ’round since I wake up before dawn all year.
As for the light box, depending on where you live, and if you notice that the decrease in sunny hours is affecting you, you could start as early as you like.