Woman in a field happy with her digestive health

Coping with Seasonal Affective Disorder this Winter

Hannah-Charman-BsCHannah Charman is a Medical Herbalist and graduated from Middlesex University with an Honours Degree in Western Herbal Medicine, following four years of full-time study.

Before she began studying Herbal Medicine, she trained as a Reiki practitioner, and was one of the youngest people to train in the Advanced Level of Reiki.  She is a Member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists (NIMH).

Many of us notice that we feel a bit low at this time of year, but for some people life becomes a real struggle during the dark days of winter. 

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is now classed as a form of bipolar disorder because, as well as depression, there’s often at least one manic phase. During that time sufferers, or those around them, will tend to notice unusual behaviours, like overspending, staying wide awake late at night, or being over-elated. It can have a significant impact on a person’s home and work life, and certainly during the depressive phase, focus and concentration become very difficult. 

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

My theory is that far from being an illness, it’s our body’s hibernation phase that used to start naturally in late autumn. Until the industrial revolution, we would have spent the summer working the fields, gathering the harvest at the end of summer, and foraging in early autumn. Berries and meats would have been preserved and there would have been relatively little to do other than stay indoors and rest. 

Like many animals, we would have been fairly dormant during this time, and our bodies would have taken the opportunity to recharge and recuperate. 

The problem nowadays is that our modern lifestyle is completely out of tune with our own – and our environment’s – natural rhythms. 

SAD sufferers notice that when the days are short they crave high carb foods, which cause them to gain weight. This is exactly what would have been needed before a period of hibernation. 

If you struggle with the winter blues, you may also feel lethargic during the day, and find it difficult to complete even simple tasks. Again, due to the extreme cold, it wouldn’t have been sensible to expend lots of energy on being active. 

What can we do about Seasonal Affective Disorder? 

It’s important to try and change the way we see winter when we have SAD, and spend as much time as we can enjoying all it has to offer. Staying indoors gives us a chance to catch up on any books we’ve wanted to read, or films we’ve wanted to watch all year. We can do more cooking, crafting or other creative, nurturing activities and learn to love winter again. 

But the rest of the time, life needs to carry on as normal. Light therapy is very useful for tricking the pineal gland in the brain into thinking it’s still summer. The pineal gland detects sunlight and is responsible for setting our natural rhythms. 

During winter, it notes less light than summer, and triggers hibernation. By stimulating it first thing in the morning with full spectrum light, it switches off melatonin production, which starts our ‘rest and repair’ phase at night. It also increases our brain’s serotonin levels, helping us to feel happier and more alert. A light box is a good investment if you have SAD, but otherwise, get outside in the daylight as early as you can, and spend a few minutes looking in the direction of the sun (not straight at it!).  

Using St John’s Wort to help with Seasonal Affective Disorder

There are numerous studies which show that St John’s Wort is very effective in treating mild to moderate depression. It works in a similar way to some mainstream antidepressants in that it helps to maintain good levels of serotonin

From a more traditional perspective, St John’s Wort is classed as a ‘herb of the sun’, and it flowers around the time of the summer solstice when the hours of sunlight are at their maximum for the year. 

It only grows in sunny spots, harnessing the energy of the sun, and brightening our mood on dark winter days. 

Who is St John’s Wort good for?

St John’s Wort is a powerful herbal medicine used to relieve the symptoms of anxiety and low mood, based on traditional use.

 It’s traditional use for anxiety, makes it fine to start during any manic phase of SAD too. 

St John’s Wort can interact with other forms of medication and hormonal contraceptives, so you should always follow the advice on the Patient Information Leaflet

Each HRI Good Mood™ tablet contains 334 mg of St John’s Wort extract (Hypericum perforatum L.) equivalent to 1670mg – 2338mg of St John’s Wort. Two tablets provide the strongest daily dose on the UK market. 

The herbs are harvested manually from the wild in Chile in July and August, in accordance with the Good Agricultural and Collection Practice (GACP) guidelines, then dried in the sun.

I’ve had SAD myself to varying degrees over the past few years, but each time thought that I’d have been perfectly happy if I could have stayed indoors and rested until spring. 

Having worked with many more sufferers, most have said the same. We’ve also noted that the severity of symptoms seems to depend on how difficult life is in general at the time. 

If you would like to read more about herbal medicines, why not join the HRI Herbal Medicine Facebook Community @HRIHerbal for hints and tips on how to live life naturally. 

Image by Morgan Sessions on Unsplash.