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October 10, 2019

7 Spiritual Practices to Reduce Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Summer in the Northern Hemisphere is over, which means the days will soon get darker and our energy will start to plummet.

The thing is, it doesn’t necessarily have to go that way yet again this winter. We may be able to salvage some of that summer feeling through spiritual work.

I used to suffer in the winter, which is why I almost always go somewhere warm when the weather gets cold. Still, last year I spent the winter months in Canada doing my yoga teacher training. I ate vegan food, hung out with people I love, and did a whole lot of yoga. I fared well and didn’t suffer the usual winter blues I had in the past.

When I used to spend all my winters in Canada, I didn’t really help myself at all. My habits made the exhaustion and depression exponentially worse than it needed to be.

I would be fine until about November, and then it would hit me—total exhaustion no matter how long I slept for. I had such low energy that by 3 p.m., I couldn’t keep my head up. I knew I should exercise after I finished work, but walking out of the building and into the dark just increased my exhaustion.

Many of us gain weight around this time as well, because in the midst of all this the body is craving carbs in an attempt to get energized. I think back on those autumn and winter months now and wish I had known more about the benefits of yoga and meditation.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

SAD is a form of depression. Basically, the lack of energy and happy feeling we get from the glorious sun on our face comes from a disruption in our hormones. Serotonin and melatonin—the happy chemicals—become depleted. This can cause us to have issues with sleep, make us feel moody, and generally mess with our ability to feel good.

Because SAD is a form of depression, many people are prescribed antidepressants to deal with the symptoms. I have written extensively about addiction, to both illegal and prescription drugs. The statistics for addiction to antidepressants are alarming. Here’s just one: According to The New York Times, “Some 15.5 million Americans have been taking the medications for at least five years. The rate has almost doubled since 2010, and more than tripled since 2000.” Once the brain gets used to being altered like that, you can suffer the depression once again if you try to stop.

I know for myself, I would strive so hard to maintain positive. It was not possible for me. Each day would feel worse, and leave me believing there was no hope that I’d ever feel good again.

I personally decided it was best for me to live in Southeast Asia during the winter. I have the luxury to do that because I worked hard to become nomadic. For those who can’t do what I do, there are some pretty incredible holistic remedies that can help you avoid SAD, or even just the “winter blues.”

Here are seven ways we can ride out, and even thrive through, the winter months:

Exercise to Get your Happy On

I know it seems like the last thing you want to do when the weather gets cold, but keep working out. Any form of raising your heart rate for 30 minutes a day helps to ease depression.

When we exercise, we release endorphins like serotonin and dopamine. These make us feel happy. And regular workouts can keep us from gaining weight throughout the winter months.

Keep your Heart Open

Think of a time you were madly in love or really excited about your life. Your heart was open wide and you had unlimited energy available. Even if you didn’t eat or sleep, you felt like you could stay up all night with a smile on your face. Trying to cultivate that deep sense of love through having an open heart can defy the dark, cold, dreary days of winter.

Do things you love. Be around people you love. Go to women’s circles and yoga classes after work, even if you’re feeling a little tired. Some yoga poses are actually designed to aid in opening your heart chakra. They allow you to relax, feel revitalized, and take in the nurturing energy in the room.

And remember, you are not alone in your SAD struggles. When you attend holistic classes like ecstatic dance, circles, yoga, and guided meditation, you are with your tribe. Research has found that support networks can allow you to make the behavioral changes easier. Get your trusted friends together and commit to a lovely practice a few times a week.

Listen to Music that Improves your Mood

Music is just one more thing that affects your senses. Listening to beach songs from last summer can remind you of the sun beating on your face. More than that though, music makes you want to move your body, and can open your heart and make you feel something, as opposed to just feeling numb when you’re going through a bout of depression. Let it take over your whole body and soul.

Be Grateful to Shift your Mindset

Every morning, I write down a few things I’m grateful for. No matter where I am, it is a powerful way to shine light on the darkness of negative thoughts that come up.

Because SAD is a form of depression, it might be really hard to see any point of getting out of bed. So look for the things in your life that are going well. Write out a few things that are great about your life, great about you, and also a few thing you’re looking forward to in the future. These positive thoughts and actions help to keep the really negative thoughts from taking over.

Meditate to Alleviate SAD Symptoms

Symptoms of SAD that can really bring you down include anxiety and depression. If you’ve ever had SAD, you can probably recall the ruminating thoughts that caused you to feel stressed out or depressed. Meditation can help to calm the mind down and has been proven to boost serotonin, which is what governs our ability to feel pleasure. When you meditate daily, you learn to shift your attention.

Meditation is the art of being able to acknowledge thoughts as objects. Body scans can help us by identifying parts of our body that might be in pain, like our heart center, throat, stomach, or anywhere we’re holding onto things. As you pay attention to your body, you can offer that pain compassion. Meditation allows us to witness the thoughts going on in our head. We can just watch instead of falling into the pit of despair the ego mind wants to drag us into.

Yoga for Symptoms of Depression

Studies have shown that yoga can help reduce how stressed out we get, and aid in mood disorders, like anxiety and depression. Stretching out our muscles can help minimize soreness in the winter months. Poses help us relax, releasing tension in the body and the mind. And yoga has also been shown to improve our energy.

The practice is a helpful way to combat many of the symptoms that come with any kind of depression. If you plan to practice at home, create a sacred space that is warm and cozy—light a candle, listen to binaural beats, and spoil yourself with your favorite poses.

Plan a Spiritual Vacation Getaway

Breaking up the winter by taking a vacation in the sun can give us something to look forward to. The feeling you get when the sun hits your skin upon arriving at a tropical destination—well, there’s nothing like it. We can feel our pores opening, take in a blast of vitamin D, and taste the freedom that comes with knowing we can sleep as late as we want. These vacations can bring us back to life.

A retreat that involves a healthy regime is an even better idea. Those booze-induced holidays might be fun, but ultimately to your detriment once you’re back at home. Going to a retreat where you can take in yoga, eat healthy food, and get together with other people is a deep form of rejuvenation. And the memory of it can stay in your mind to warm the winter days ahead.

Be good to yourself through the autumn and winter months. Do all the things you never have time to do when the weather is nice. Nourish your body with good foods, and spend time with people you deeply care about. Take part in some soul nurturing workshops throughout the season. Get outside, even if it’s damn cold. Learn a new hobby and fall in love with it. Drink warm tea under a blanket.

These months aren’t always easy, but offering yourself a dose of self-care can make a big difference on how you manage them.

~

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author: Loraine Couturier

Image: Yasin Hoşgör/Unsplash

Editor: Nicole Cameron