(A general Ayurvedic perspective and insight on seasonal depression.)
Seasonal Affective Disorder, otherwise known as SAD (the irony), is a type of depression that occurs as we transition seasons, specifically going from Summer into Fall and then Winter. This mainly has a direct correlation to the reduction in sun exposure which also influences the production of our Vitamin D levels that is processed in our bodies, through the liver and affects mood; along with immunity. Serotonin levels may also drop, which is usually associated with lack of sunlight.
According to Ayurveda, SAD is called "Chittavsada" and it is during the transition of every season that a window exists where our physical and mental health are affected. This is because as one season leaves us, the other is slowly accumulating, creating a challenge to remain balanced as the climate is transitioning. Approximately, the months of January, May and September are these windows. This is also dependent upon geography, as the sun's rays do not touch the Earth equally. With regard to SAD, we experience less daylight and more darkness, leading us to the darkest day of the year which is the Winter Solstice, typically December 21. Gradually, we begin to have an increase in daylight but the effects of this seasonal depression linger well into January and February which are influenced by the qualities of cold, heavy and moist, known as the Kapha time of year in Ayurveda.
Genetic predispositions are exactly that. A predisposition means we have a propensity to certain conditions based on genetics but as modern geneticists and epigeneticists are researching, we find that the expression of certain genes turning on and off is determined by a slew of factors. It's like a "rubix cube" and the proper alignment of circumstances will determine what develops or remains dormant. How profound!
Ayurveda generally addresses depression based on constitutional determinants and with regards to SAD, some individuals are more influenced than others based on inherent sensitivities. For instance, "Airy Types", otherwise known as Vata Predominant types and "Earthy/Water Types", otherwise known as Kapha Predominant types, are more prone towards depression than "Firey Types/Type-A" personalities. Not to say that Firey Types may not express SAD but it is slightly different and not as long lasting usually. Additionally, genetics (which contributes towards and individuals constitutional configuration) is important too, but it's not all about genetics. The decrease in sunlight can be perceived in the mind as depressing. Simultaneously, it is safe to say that there is a neurophysiological response to the reduction in natural light. Other key factors such as diet, exercise, sleep and mental practices play a role in how we are affected by environmental changes and whether or not certain genes are expressed or dormant. Let's also add in that this time of year, more than any other, invites in emotional "stir-ups" because holidays bring to the surface latent emotions or at least amplifies feelings. Family and loved ones tend to have this influence. There is a general confluence of reasons why SAD appears but it is important to also consider that the root cause can differ individually, which supports the understanding Ayurveda shares by stating that there is "no one size fits all" when it comes to disease formation of any kind.
Some highlighted reasons for SAD:
*lack of sunlight
*drop in serotonin
*drop in Vitamin D
*constitutional influence ((Vata (Air), Pitta (Fire), Kapha(water))
*holidays can also trigger sadness because of nostalgia
Some symptoms may include:
*an unshakable sense of melancholy, general sadness, and lethargy
*appetite changes and cravings for sweet or other types of heavy emotionally driven nurturing foods
*loss of appetite or increase
In my practice, these are some successful recommendations that I have implemented and suggested to my patients. PREPARATION is a form of prevention and knowing that you suffer from SAD, before it starts to become aggravated during the cold month season, is the first opportunity to make a change. Additionally, it is important to note that although these recommendations may be easier said than done, having a healthcare provider support you in implementing these suggestions can be helpful. Furthermore, progress starts with taking one step at a time, sometimes even baby steps. But if you're ready for a change because you're tired of letting the blues get you down anymore and prevent you from really living life, then starting with one or two of these suggestions can be helpful and then take it from there. Ask your inner guidance, outer guidance and whatever guidance to help support the change. There's nothing wrong with you or being depressed. There's nothing "wrong" with any of it. Simply be with what is. See the recommendations below and private message me if you have any questions. Seek out an expert that can help, whether healthcare, holistic healthcare and/or therapist.
1) AWARENESS is essential. Knowing that this is something that happens to you is the first step to doing something about it through its recognition.
2) SLEEP CYCLE is always important year round. We have to remember that during this time of year, for millennia, we were grounding in hibernation but it was more recently with the introduction of electricity that we were able to exceed the natural rhythms of the body that have been set for us since the beginning of human-kind, known as the "Circadian Rhythm." In honoring the natural tendency to fall asleep the body knows how to take care of itself. Now-a-days we push our limits and stay up late causing a whole physiological domino effect of health related issues because we are going against what is natural attributed to our modern and generally busy lifestyles. That old axiom, "Early to bed, early to rise, makes a human healthy, wealthy and wise." See my article on SLEEP for more details.
3) DIET is always key to our health and when you are eating the right foods, you are feeling right in your body (or at least better.) Heavy foods are good during the fall months because they can ground you as the cold air picks up but depending on your digestion and the quality of foods ingested you could end up on the heavier side of the scale with lymphatic congestion which slows things down. In science, we know that the brain possesses lymphatic ducts to keep toxins moving and clearing, so when these channels become obstructed the brain and mind are affected. (Mind is connected to everything!) So, when there is this type of depression, warm, lighter and simpler foods with pungent and bitter spices are helpful. Spices like Turmeric, Basil, Oregano, Mustard Seeds, Cumin Seeds, Ginger (fresh and dry) and a pinch of cayenne here and there.
4) EXERCISE is essential year round, as it keeps the blood circulating and lymphatic system moving. Inviting a good sweat a few times a week is a good start. Overdoing the exercise and sweating can also have negative consequences, ending up in depletion, versus accumulation. Ayurveda also strongly recommends any vigorous exercises to be done in the morning before 10, ideally. In general, if time isn't always on your side, then exercising when you can is better than not exercising at all. My general recommendation has included morning Sun Salutations, say 3-6-9-12 rounds, building up gradually, to jump start the day. What a great way too! (Especially on gloomy days.) View HERE for instructions.
5) BREATHING becomes short and shallow, almost feeling stagnant which is what depression can feel like which is a stagnation within life itself. Therefore, I have my patients incorporating a yogic breath technique called Kapalabhati, known as "rapid diaphragmatic breath" and a few rounds of this in the morning either before a morning yoga practice to get the juices flowing or after, with a few rounds of Sun Salutations in between. I generally suggest 3 rounds of 27 or 54 depending on how much control you have over your diaphragm. Build up gradually though or you can cause more harm. See HERE for instructions.
6) VITAMIN D is important, so taking anywhere between 2,000 and 5,000 IU is recommended. To determine what your levels are, you can ask your primary care physician to run the specifi test. According to Ayurveda and older data, for the levels to be adequate as a hormone and a vitamin they must be above 50. Newer standards indicate less than 30 but it's not understood why there was a change in this. Suffice it to say, optimal levels are above 50.I prefer having patients take an isotonic form of this but check with your local grocer (Whole Foods, local food co-op or online resources) as to the quality of whichever one you prefer. Just not your GNC or CVS version. One resource for it is HERE.
7) ESSENTIAL OILS can have an uplifting and motivating effect on your mind and body. Oils like Rosemary, Rose, Tangerine, Tulsi, Cinnamon, Jatamamsi, Frankincense, Sandalwood and Violet. See HERE for a list of resources.
8) NOSE THERAPY (Nasya Chikitsa) is a profound treatment that Ayurveda offers. This involves the use of oil application to the sinus'. One of my favorite formulas is Super Nasya. 2-3 drops in the morning and optionally throughout the day can be helpful in stimulating the brain. Ayurveda knows that the application of oil to the sinus' is a direct route to administering herbal care to the brain. This particular formula has a cleansing but uplifting effect. Check it out HERE.
A)Neti Pot is a yogic technique consisting of nasal irrigation. By irrigating the sinus', you're able to increase oxygenation to the brain and stimulate the lymphatic movement of the cranium. I prefer the traditional means of applying this therapy through a ceramic pot. If you don't already have one, you can purchase one HERE.
9) HERBS hold and energy from nature that the cells respond too on so many levels. It's amazing how the plant kingdom supports us. Herbs such as Turmeric, Brahmi, Gotu Kola, Ginkgo, Ashwagandha, Tulsi, Ginger (fresh and dry), Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Cinnamon, Eucalyptus and Pippali. You can purchase these herbs through Banyan Botanicals or Mountain Rose Herbs.
10) LIGHT THERAPY, otherwise called 'Rupa Chikitsa" in Ayurveda, is a great way to support the body and mind in physiologically stimulating neurochemicals that promote an increase in lightness and contentment in the body while the sun is setting earlier and while the depression is pressing you. You a can see a sample of the treatment in the images in HERE. You can also perform a supplemental practice at home by creating your own light lamp and positioning it accordingly in a darkened room. Plus, this gives you an opportunity to be creative in your healing process by having fun and being inspired which can take you out of the depression somewhat. Some colors you can use, green, gold or yellow.
11) MEDITATION is an experience that allows you to be present with what is. Meditation is a key that helps you to know yourself more. As you discover the stillness amidst the chaos of the monkey mind, there is a place of calm, ease, peace, love, trust and bliss that is available to you abundantly. In the case of SAD, you can use meditation (there are numerous variations) as a tool to uncover what it is that may be causing the sad-ness and then you can go from SAD to happy. How to? Click HERE for a simple but powerful practice. Here are some pointers to contemplate.
A- Meditation can be scary at times because sometimes, more often than not, the mind can be witnessed in having endless thoughts which can distract a potential meditator or even discourage them from going deeper. Even within this experience, the meditator can achieve a certain relationship by softening into the thoughts and finding a place where the thoughts aren't as intense or a place where the thoughts are having less of an insistent pull on the meditator. As one of my earliest meditation teachers put it,"Meditation is an uninterrupted flow of awareness on one object of consciousness." Exploring the inner terrain affords an understanding that provides us with a gift of knowing ourselves more intimately. During the experience of meditation, we can follow a path of self-inquiry and learn what is true and what is in alignment for the highest good. By setting up a space that invites meditation to happen, because in essence meditation is not something you do but create a space for it, you can get clearer on resolving internal conflicts and imbalances that have developed due to various reasons. There may be a deep component that the subconscious is attempting to grab your attention for and this is a gift. Often times, what happens when we attempt to meditate at first we notice the busyness of the mind and many people would rather not because they can feel like they're going crazy. This is where the work can really begin. First, eliminate the outside distractions and allow the silence of the outer space to take over as you're left with observing the chaoticness of the mind. In and of itself, this can be a task but a task worth endeavoring with great results waiting. To turn off the busy-ness of the outside world and to allow yourself to be with what is...is profound. Just be patient, diligent and intentional. Try not to be judgmental or harsh. Simply be with what you notice. It's like watching a movie. Are you in the movie or are you able to be aware of the fact that your only participation is to sit and watch.
B- As you meditate and start to cultivate a relationship with yourself on these inner levels, ask yourself "what is true about this sadness/depression?", "how is it serving you?", "what does it have to teach you?", "what would it like you to know about yourself?","what is it that you need for yourself in this moment?" This is an inner dialogue. Ask the question, and let it go. There's no need to figure anything out. It will come for you quicker if you don't go looking for it. The more you soften and surrender into it, the more clarity you will have. Through this clarity, you'll have some relief from the heaviness but only by going into it, not avoiding it. That's the gift.
C- Another important aspect pertaining to meditation is that since meditation teaches us to accept what is and to be present, we can take the SAD opportunity to dive deeper within consiousness and to see the darkness, the SADness and the depression for what it is. The darkness pertaining to even the lack of sunlight. Within this experience we can also "tell ourselves" that with darkness comes light and with light comes darkness and it is the acceptance of this wholeness that we can possibly find more ease, versus reject, resent and resist the darkness. The REALity is that it is darker this time of year, with or without the neurochemical correspondence to this phenomena. The REALity is that this darkness will not last long. It is all in a constant flow. What goes up must come down. Happiness brings sadness. Love holds the space for hate. This perception of darkness is an interpretation of the dualistic mind. When we accept wholeness, we align more with Oneness. Accepting allows for a sweeter surrender, versus the bitterness and despair of rejecting or resisting. It is normally where we resist what is true that we can create more suffering for ourselves and by accepting the current state of conditions, which is the reality of now, we can ease into it when we allow ourselves to sink deeper and trust the process more. This perspective can be applied elsewhere and to other circumstances. Within this reflection, notice what it reveals, instead of fighting it. See if there is a difference and how you feel.
12) GET OUTSIDE even though it is cold! It's true that hibernating is part of our nature but as humans are out and about due to work, school and other related duties, it is quintessential that you motivate yourselves even more so in order to prevent heaviness in the body and mind from prevailing. Take a hike. Go for a walk in the nearest park or woods. Make an adventure happen. Just be careful of ice. Trekking through the snow is a good way to increase cardiovascular activities and keep the blood moving and warmer. If you're elderly, then stay in and stay safe and cozy. There are gentle yoga exercises you can practice or you could go to a local gym. It all depends. Just meet with your health care provider for ideas. It is also beautiful to get outside because you can directly experience the gift the season has to bring as mother nature changes her facade. It's all a blessing. On sunny days, even when the sun doesn't last long in the sky, you can still feel the light warmth. The senses will respond and recharge. The sun is so important for life. Sun is the expression of life. It is also a representation of love because pure love is like the sun. It is present, shining, warming and sharing without ever asking or expecting anything in return. It just is!
13) MASSAGE is a profound influence on health for so many reasons. Getting massaged on a regular basis helps to move the blood and lymphatic systems. Not to mention that getting massaged involves getting to interact with someone else that can help you not to feel as lonely, at least in that moment. Click HERE for a list of massage services that I offer. Maybe even check HERE for this months specials. In Ayurveda, the word for oleation is Snehana. Snehana also means love.
14) LOVED ONES exercise. Find yourself in good company. Share some hot cocoa. Share some stories. Share some silliness. Share some laughter and playfulness, regardless of age. Love warms us from the inside out. If you have a limited circle of family or friends, then do some volunteer or connect with some groups that share similar interests and build this sort of relationship. Isolation is a cold feeling and that can add to depression, as well as anxiety.
15) HOLIDAYS can bring up the past or cause you to think about the future but the reality is what is happening right now in this very moment of time. Holding on to the past causes depression and projecting into the future creates an avenue where worry is not far behind. When you are able to accept the present moment, you receive the present of presence. When you are able to accept the current circumstance(s), you are now standing in reality because what is real is what is right now. What you can do now is what we can do now.
Holidays tend to sadden some people when this can be the time of year to experience the love that the holidays can bring as loved ones share special moments together. Some of this has to do with mindset and how this time of year is approached and perceived. Take time to pace yourself. Don't let the holidays drag you around. Simply allow yourself to be in a more relaxed state by taking the time to take care of yourself and stepping back versus being pulled forward. The greatest gift you can give is the gift of love and love starts with loving yourself first. This means self-care is fundamental, first and foremost. Then, you can share it and not feel depleted, resentful and annoyed with the holidays. I've heard people say, "I can't wait until the holidays are over." Rather than saying that, when you really take care of yourself, you can end up voicing "the holidays are here and I enjoy the intimacy and peace they bring." What's the point of celebrating if you're going to be stressed about it? There's a way that you can experience pleasure and still get things done, day by day and honoring yourself. Honoring yourself invites others to honor themselves.
16) SPRING CLEANING in the winter. You heard me! Get a move on! Get to it! What better opportunity to clean house than during the winter when we are forced to be inside due to the elements. Go through your closets. Re-arrange furniture. Get rid of what you haven't used in a long time or will no longer use. Do you need it? No. Then get rid of it. Buy new things. Purchase flowers to adorn your home. Organize! Organize! Organize! What better way to move the energy in the house and your inner temple. Your home is a living breathing entity. The energy you put into your home is the energy you bask in and the energy that returns back to you. What is the quality of the energy in your home? Your home is a reflection of your inner landscape. Doing this will not only lighten the weight in your home but it will motivate you and free up your mind. There's always something to do around the home. You'll feel better, lighter and experience success which will help you to feel more accomplished.