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With so much to celebrate in the New Year, why do Missoulians find themselves struggling against seasonal depression each January? Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as seasonal depression, is a common problem with many people enduring the hazy winters of Missoula. But! You CAN do something about it using complementary medicine to boost your natural ability to stay chipper even in the dreariest of winter days.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is most commonly associated with winter but can happen at any time of the year. A large part of the problem is the change in daylight hours and how we spend our time in them.

Sunlight affects our natural circadian rhythms as well as our melatonin production which control our sleep patterns. The oh-so-vital sleep system determines how long, how often, and how well we sleep.

Likewise, this change in sunlight affects our body’s ability to produce serotonin – the happy chemical.

What you get is a terrible combination of poor sleep and lack of stimulating serotonin to keep us motivated and happy.

These two factors play off of each other. The less you get out and experience the world around you and soak up that vital sunlight, the more depressed you become. It’s a real lose-lose.

How do I prevent Winter Depression?

Good news! You can do something about winter depression. Here are out top 5 ways to fight the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder and start enjoying winter again.

#1 Get Outside! | Nourish Kidney Yang

With so much to celebrate in the New Year, why do Missoulians find themselves struggling against seasonal depression each January? Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as seasonal depression, is a common problem with many people enduring the hazy winters of Missoula. But! You CAN do something about it using complementary medicine to boost your natural ability to stay chipper even in the dreariest of winter days.

Why do we get Seasonal Depression?

Seasonal Affective Disorder is most commonly associated with winter but can happen at any time of the year. A large part of the problem is the change in daylight hours and how we spend our time in them.

Sunlight affects our natural circadian rhythms as well as our melatonin production which control our sleep patterns. The oh-so-vital sleep system determines how long, how often, and how well we sleep.

Likewise, this change in sunlight affects our body’s ability to produce serotonin – the happy chemical.

What you get is a terrible combination of poor sleep and lack of stimulating serotonin to keep us motivated and happy.

These two factors play off of each other. The less you get out and experience the world around you and soak up that vital sunlight, the more depressed you become. It’s a real lose-lose.

How do I prevent Winter Depression?

Good news! You can do something about winter depression. Here are out top 5 ways to fight the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder and start enjoying winter again.

#1 Get Outside! | Nourish Kidney Yang

We are very limited by the amount of daylight we get in our already hazy skies in Missoula. Even though January can be bitter cold, getting outside and soaking up and much sunlight as you can will help offset your symptoms.

Despite the cold, there is so much to do in the winter! Cross-country skiing, snowboarding, skiing, ice fishing, snowshoeing, winter camping, or even just a nice walk down Higgins will help expose your face to those vital rays of sun.

Why? Because vitamin D plays a very important role in brain health and vitamin D deficiency has been linked to higher rates of depression.

The organ system associated with winter is the Kidneys. The Chinese believe that the sun nourishes the Kidney Yang aspect. This is very important since winter is very Yin in nature which can stagnate the Kidney leading to dampness, cold, and depression.

Try your best to get outside in the morning to mid-afternoon. This will give your body that vitamin boost to prepare you for the day ahead.

Can’t stand the cold and would rather not? Follow our next tip…

#2 Include These Foods in Your Diet | Bitter Yang Foods

If the cold just isn’t your thing, then consider incorporating vitamin D rich foods into your diet such as:

  • salmon
  • fatty fish
  • a fish supplement
  • vitamin D fortified foods like cereal
  • mushrooms

Are you a vegan or vegetarian? Your changes of suffering from a vitamin D deficiency are much higher. Check this list of vegetarian-friendly vitamin D foods to ensure you are getting enough.

Depression ofter triggers a desire to eat more simple carbs which can cause a significant drop in blood sugar shortly after eating, causing an emotional crash. Do your best to incorporate regular, small meals of high quality protein to stave off the inevitable carb cravings. In the long run, you may not notice a large boost in your emotions but what you won’t have is the mood swings.

In Chinese Medicine, it is good to eat bitter foods to balance the Yin and Yang energies in the body during the winter. These include:

  • turnip
  • celery
  • rye
  • beet
  • chamomile
  • alfalfa
  • lettuce
  • asparagus

#3 Exercise…daily! | Stimulate the Qi

Exercising is the last thing you want to do when it’s cold outside, overcast or snowing, and you’re fighting off depression…but, it’s one of the best ways to produce that warm-and-fuzzy serotonin that you so desperately need.

Not to mention that a winter of daily exercise will mean no rush to get into rad shape for summer.

Missoula has a great resource and community of indoor exercise that isn’t traditional like a gym membership. Hit the rock climbing wall at Freestone. Enjoy the foam pit or adult tumble at Roots Gymnastics. Learn silks or acroyoga at MASC. Find a movement art like Bamboo Bodies. Take up Tai Chi or yoga.

The possibilities are nearly endless. Find something that you love and let it inspire you and draw you out of your blanket cave and back into the world.

Most importantly, exercise functions to stimulate the movement of Qi throughout the body. Stagnant Qi can cause a mess of health issues, especially during the winter. Light to moderate exercise stimulates Qi and improves mental and physical wellbeing.

#4 Find Complementary Medicine | Acupuncture for Depression

For some of us, our seasonal depression is mild to moderate. For others, the symptoms are severe. You may face suicidal thoughts or an absolute inability to cope. Aside from offering the serious suggestion of moving to a warmer climate, a great alternative is to try acupuncture as a treatment for seasonal depression.

Acupuncture shouldn’t be a last resort. It is a comprehensive medicine that can be used to treat all types of depression. It is a natural, healthy alternative to antidepressants.

Acupuncture treats the person as a whole, rather than just a symptom. What you’ll discover is an affordable, effective treatment with little to no side effects and lasting results.

Getting scheduled is easy and your acupuncturist will create a treatment plan based around your symptoms.

#5 Start Healthy Routines | Acupuncture for Breaking Bad Habits

Depression craves negative feedback loops. We eat more carbs, which sends our blood sugar plummeting. We drink alcohol which leads to more depression. We smoke cigarettes to stave off anxiety. We avoid social interactions which amplifies feelings of loneliness or hopelessness.

All of these things create a negative environment that heightens feelings of depression throughout winter.

Luckily, acupuncture can help mediate the symptoms associated with withdrawal from nicotine or alcohol. It can also reduce anxiety symptoms and regulate mood.

If you want to start a healthy routine, give yourself incentives by downloading a habit tracking app. We also suggest downloading an app that tracks your mood so you can get measurable feedback if your routine is helping. Mood changes can be subtle and gradual. A tracking app will help you see your progress visually and keep you motivated.

Healthy habits to adopt include:

  • contributing time each day to music, art, or another creative craft
  • studying something that you enjoy such as languages or history
  • sticking with an exercise routine
  • journaling
  • meditation or daily reflection
  • social interactions
  • reading

Do you have Seasonal Affective Disorder?

The symptoms for seasonal affective disorder can be similar to anxiety disorders, adrenal fatigue, bipolar disorder, and other depressive imbalances. Luckily, the treatments for these can be similar to the above suggestions.

If you’re concerned that you may be dealing with depression, schedule a consultation with one of our licensed acupuncturists. You will receive a treatment plan, dietary suggestions, and herbal recommendations to get you feeling better and ready to take on the winter blues.