Natural Ways to Treat Your SAD
You’ve heard of SAD—seasonal affective disorder; a condition causing intense irritability, lack of energy, and an unceasing craving for carbs. You probably don’t have it, but that doesn’t mean your winter blues aren’t real: Each year, about half of Americans report feeling down once it gets cold. (The rest moved to L.A.) So we’ve compiled fancy gadgets, restorative beauty products, and therapeutic advice to help you get through.
Relax With an App
For Meditation: Calm.com
iPhone and Android; $9.99 per year
In seven steps, a narrator trains you to quiet your thoughts, relax your shoulders, and focus on breathing, then guides you through 20-minute mindfulness breaks. Crunched for time? A “Do Nothing for 2 Minutes” option encourages stillness with crashing wave sounds. You can also access the program on a computer, and it will helpfully freeze your mouse and keyboard.
For Pain Relief: Acupressure: Heal Yourself
iPhone and Android; $1.99
A downloadable handbook teaches you how to use pressure on your skin to help release muscle tension, promote the circulation of blood flow, and feel less gross. Go through one pressure point at a time, or choose from 90 combinations that are designed to target ailments such as chronic headaches or breathing trouble.
For Anxiety: WorryBox
iPhone and Android; free
This app encourages you to tackle what’s getting you down through “cognitive journaling.” Basically, you write your thoughts, guided by leading questions that help you assess how you’re handling problems. If you’re losing sleep or facing a conflict, an audio coach and “coping statements” help you get past it.
For Escape: Mindbody Connect
iPhone and Android; free
Take a quick break at a yoga studio, meditation retreat, or pampering spa using this platform, which maps out wellness centers nearby using GPS. Users worldwide rate tens of thousands of services, and you can sign up and pay for them directly through the app. Last-minute deals pop up almost daily.
Seek Out These Holistic Options
Chinese Herbal Medicine
Traditional practitioners blame stagnation of liver qi for depression and anxiety. Dr. Martha Lucas, a Colorado-based specialist, often prescribes xiao yao wan, a classic formulation of eight herbs. Some Chinese remedies can be toxic, so consult a specialist before buying online.
Serotonin Precursor Supplements
Low serotonin is part of SAD, but straight supplementation isn’t possible. Instead, turn to amino acid building blocks such as L-tryptophan and 5-HTP, both found in daily pills sold at Whole Foods. Read the warnings, though: Side effects may include heartburn, headache, and, rarely, more serious conditions.
Vitamin D Pills
Several studies point to D deficiency as a mood ruiner. Dr. Mark Frye, head of the department of psychiatry and psychology at the Mayo Clinic, routinely treats patients with oral supplements. You can get them over the counter, but it’s best to have blood levels checked by a doctor, who can advise you on side effects and drug interactions.
Studies show it can increase serotonin levels. Toronto-based acupuncturist Noel Wright recommends treatments twice a week for five weeks, eventually tapering off. The acupuncturist will likely place needles in your glabella, the area between the brows, to indirectly stimulate the brain’s pineal gland, which responds to light and seasonal changes. —Cheryl Wischhover
Smell Your Stress Away
While aromatherapy has been studied less than other remedies for feeling unhappy, “many essential oils are said to be uplifting,” says Ojai (Calif.)-based aromatherapist Robert Tisserand. “Some of these are more stimulating, and some are more calming.” Below, a guide to the most powerful scents. —Katie Chang
Convenient for travel, this tin of TenOverSix incense pyres ($28; blackbirdballard.com) contains 20 cones that add fragrance to a room for four hours. They’re made of sage, which the Romans believed could improve memory.
Oils from this verdant, fruit-bearing tree induce relaxation, according to a recent Taiwanese study, which found bergamot lowered heart rate and blood pressure. Archipelago bergamot tobacco diffuser comes off strong ($35; archipelago-usa.com), so put it in your bathroom.
Incense has played a role in Japanese meditation and Buddhist ceremonies for centuries. Light the sandalwood one from the Shoyeido premium assortment ($26; luckyscent.com) after work. It can both calm you down and improve attentiveness.
Citrusy essential oils–such as lemon and mandarin orange–were the first aromatherapy remedies studied for lifting mood and improving mental clarity. Spritz Rituals Happy Mist ($25; rituals.com) as you’re getting dressed to energize your mornings.
When inhaled, it’s meant to soothe frazzled nerves and curb anxiety. Spray this Fig+Yarrow atmosphere mist ($24; figandyarrow.com) on your pillows and linens before turning in to help you doze off more quickly.
The bright, invigorating scent of the Nest grapefruit diffuser ($38; nestfragrances.com) may help deactivate the brain’s fight-or-flight mechanism, which reduces stress. The scent’s not overwhelming, so let it live on your desk.
Oh, and Quit Smoking—Carefully
There’s a strong connection between nicotine and winter depression, even if you’ve switched to fewer smokes or e-cigs. But you shouldn’t necessarily go cold turkey in January: Researchers have found that quitting then can actually trigger SAD, which will make it harder to break the habit. When you do quit, keep a close watch on your mood. You can also talk to your doctor about Bupropion, a cessation drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat SAD.
… But Know When to Consider Professional Help
• You should if you can’t shake the daily dread. “If your case is mild, you might want to take walks in the morning or try therapeutic light boxes,” says Dr. Norman Rosenthal, author of Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder. “I compare the winter blues to having a cold, whereas SAD is like pneumonia: It’s hard to maintain basic functions.”
• First, see your primary-care physician. Thyroid conditions and bipolar disorder can come with the same lethargy, hopelessness, and disinterest that make winter especially rough for some people. A doctor will eliminate these diagnoses before prescribing treatment, making a referral, or suggesting that you find your own psychotherapist.
• You may end up lying on a couch and just talking. “People who become convinced they’ll be miserable all winter add to the biologic load of SAD,” says Dr. Matt Rudorfer, associate director at the National Institute of Mental Health. Meeting with a shrink, usually someone who practices cognitive behavioral therapy, “teaches you to combat that automatic negative thinking.” According to one University of Vermont study, patients who meet with a psychotherapist weekly are five times less likely to relapse the next winter.
• Last resort: an antidepressant. Because SAD is a variation of a major depressive disorder, antidepressants can reverse the condition after you take them for a few months. Prescriptions and dosages vary by individual, and a doctor may need to adjust yours as the days shorten and—mercifully—lengthen again. —Catherine Ryan Gregory