Surviving and Thriving in the Darkness

Surviving and Thriving in the Darkness

by Gretchen Fox Schempp, Wellness Manager

Ah, winter. We’ve nearly made it through the season of darkness. From the Autumn equinox when the days light wanes until the glorious Winter solstice when light reenters and the days begin to lengthen in light. It’s interesting to me how we seem to cruise through the dark season, barely noticing because we get so busy with harvesting and holidays. Our lives are increasingly busier and more demanding than ever. Most of us will make it through the holidays only to find ourselves, come January, exhausted and bummed out. It seems sometimes that Janaury is the darkest season. This year I am making a conscious effort to go into the new year with the awareness of the LIGHT that is actually growing every day!

Sometimes it helps to have a little support during those cold winter days and night. SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a type of depression that happens at the same time every year. Often it will start during the autumn months and continue into the winter zapping our energy and potentially making us moody.

Some symptoms cited by Mayo Clinic are as follows:

• Depression
• Hopelessness
• Anxiety
• Loss of energy
• Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
• Social withdrawal
• Oversleeping
• Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
• Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
• Weight gain
• Difficulty concentrating

Personally, I used to think that this was just how life was. It was part of the ebb and flow of life in the place I’d chosen to live. Though I have always loved the four seasons, inevitably the down feeling of late winter would get the best of me. Often it would make me wonder what was wrong with me. Really, what was wrong was that I didn’t have the necessary tools to rise above the cold and dark and make my way back to the light. There are so many things we cando and some supplements we can take to help combat the “winter blues” and even S.A.D. I find that preventative medicine is the best kind, so starting a regimen before January gets here might be just what you need.

Before I get all vitamin-y on you, I just want to say that the best medicine in the world is MOVEMENT! There is not a pill that you can take that will replace good old fresh air and exercise. We live in Iowa. Yes, it will get cold and there will be snow. Physical exercise is proven to reduce anxiety and relieve stress.

Being more fit inevitably makes you feel better about yourself. Besides that, it really is beautiful in the woods on a winter day – reveling in the quiet of winter or the sparkling snow in the sun. If you can’t wrap your mind around a daily walk in the winter air, consider some form of movement at an indoor facility. We are so fortunate to have so many talented and wonderful fitness instructors in the area, including Pilates and Yoga studios. Sometimes just getting out to a class and connecting with other people can be really supportive to mental health. Often it is these connections that deepen the level of your physical fitness as well.

Light therapy
Outdoor light can help even on cloudy days. Brightening up your living space by opening blinds and trimming branches to allow more light into your home can be very helpful. Sit in a sunny window to soak up some of that glorious sunlight on a winter day. You can even purchase a specialized light therapy box that mimics outdoor light. Light therapy appears to cause a change in brain chemicals linked to mood.

Supplementing
There are quite a few supplements that can be supportive to mental health. For seasonal blues there are a few that I like best.

Vitamin D
Often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin,” is getting more press every day for its uses as a potential mood regulator, immune system booster and of course its role in calcium absorption. I take Vitamin D year round but up my dosing as the sun moves further from my location. I take 2000 IU’s daily and up that to 5000 IU’s in the fall and winter since I work indoors for the majority of my daylight hours.

Omega-3 fatty acids, DHA specifically.
We have a pretty strong community of omega-3 users, I know this just from looking at the great selection we have on our shelves. Our members and customers dominate what is on our shelves and rock the omega-3’s. This is great because they are ESSENTIAL – that is why they call them Essential Fatty Acids! EPA and DHA are two components of omega-3s that support our health. EPA generally supports heart and joint health. DHA is more specific to brain health, mood and memory. I began taking DHA years ago one January as my first attempt to come out of my winter slump. I now just like to drink my cod liver oil right from the bottle. (Cod liver oil offers high levels of DHA and EPA per teaspoon.) Most people associate omega-3s with cardiovascular health, but their benefits go far beyond the heart. The two main omega-3s eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) promote a healthy immune response that is behind the relief of many chronic conditions are often inhibited by poor nutrition.* Extensive research has documented the health benefits of EPA and DHA which include not only a healthy heart, but brain and cognitive function, joint mobility, eye health, pregnancy and lactation, healthy skin and hair, and a normally functioning immune response.* (Nordic Naturals)

B vitamins
The B vitamins, especially folic acid and vitamin B6, have been reported by Dr. Andrew Weil to be helpful in mild depression. (Be aware that B vitamins can increase the efficacy of prescription anti-depressants). Hopefully your winter season is without the blues. If you can get out and about, try to enjoy all that this beautiful season has to offer.