Do you find yourself having to battle your mind for the long, dreary winter? Seasonal Affective Disorder or seasonal depression is a very common, and potentially life-altering, condition that is more common in women than men.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons, typically starting in the late fall and early winter and going away during the spring and summer. Symptoms of seasonal depression include fatigue, general lack of interest, social withdrawal, trouble sleeping, weight shifts, and food cravings, particularly those high in carbohydrates and sugars.
The exact causes of seasonal depression are a little unclear, however it’s believed that a vitamin D deficiency and a lack of sunlight keeps the hypothalamus, a part of the brain, from working properly. This messes with circadian rhythms, leading to higher levels of melatonin (the hormone that makes us tired) and lower levels of serotonin (a feel good hormone). Serotonin affects many cognitive functions and behaviors including mood, decision-making, social behavior, impulsive behavior, and social decision-making. Low levels of serotonin are linked with depression.
So, how do you fight seasonal depression/SAD?
HOW TO FIGHT SEASONAL DEPRESSION
The advantages of yoga – low cost, calming, centering, health-promoting – make it a natural antidepressant that can help men and women, young and old, regardless of the fitness level. According to the Harvard Mental Health Letter, recent studies suggest that yoga can reduce the impact of stress, help with anxiety and depression, act as a self-soothing technique, and improve energy – all which are helpful in fighting seasonal depression.
Yoga is a natural way to increase serotonin production, which helps to improve mood. According to the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, serotonin production plays a role in the treatment of depression. Serotonin is believed to play a major role in happiness. One study also suggests people with depression have lower serotonin levels.
Yoga also increases your heart rate variability (HRV), or change in time between heart beats, by increasing the relaxation response over the stress response in the body. A high HRV means that your body is better at self-monitoring or adapting, particularly to stress. This is not only incredibly important for depression and anxiety management, but it also being touted as a major marker for longevity.
Yoga can reduce resting heart rate, lower blood pressure, ease breathing, and increase pain tolerance. One study, according to Harvard Mental Health, found that people who were more stressed had a lower pain tolerance.
In a recent study, scientists examined how an 8-week hatha yoga intervention impacted people with mild-to-moderate major depression. According to the study, the group who practiced yoga during the study period exhibited a considerable decline in depression scores than the control group. Depression scores decreased by 9.47 points among participants performing hatha yoga regularly, while a decrease of only 2.99 points was reported for a control group over the same time period.
The combination of meditation and physical movement provide two important elements for relieving depression. Meditation helps bring a person into the present moment and allows them to clear their minds. Controlled, focused movements also help strengthen the mind-body connection.The study concluded that the yoga intervention can serve as a tool for reducing depression severity.
In the study mentioned above, a specific hatha yoga sequence was used. Here is the hatha yoga sequence that may help fight seasonal depression:
Hatha Yoga Sequence to Fight Seasonal Depression
Breath Regulation Poses
These poses improve your ability to focus, settle stress, rejuvenate the nervous system, promote balance in the left and right parts of the brain, and support respiratory functions.
- Ujjayi (Victorious Breath)
- Bhastrika (Bellows Breath)
- Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing)
- Brahmari (Bumblebee Breath)
*For details on how to practice the above breathing techniques, check out our article Yoga Breathing Techniques: The Basics of Pranayama
Mindful Poses & Movement
Mindful poses teach you to focus on the present, dissolve tensions, build strength, and increase mobility.
- Ardhakati Chakrasana (Half Waist Wheel Pose)
- Arda Chakrasana (Half Wheel Pose)
- Pada Hastasana (Hands to Feet Pose) >> for a tutorial video click here
- Bhujungasana (Cobra Pose) >>for a tutorial video click here
- Dhanurasana (Bow Pose) >>for a tutorial video click here
- Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand) >>for a tutorial video click here
- Matsyasana (Fish Pose) >>for a tutorial video click here
- Setu Bandhasana (Bridge Pose) >>for a tutorial video click here
- Balasana (Child Pose) >>for a tutorial video click here
- Vakrasana (Twisted Pose)
- Ustrasana (Camel Pose) >>for a tutorial video click here
Final Deep Relaxation Pose
This pose helps to pacify the sense organs and allow all of the learnings of the practice, physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental, to settle and integrate.
- Savasana (Corpse Pose) >> for a tutorial video click here
6 Styles of Yoga for Fighting Seasonal Depression and Anxiety
There are many different styles of yoga that reap different benefits, including assistance in managing anxiety and depression. Here are our top 6 yoga styles for fighting seasonal depression and anxiety:
1. Yin Yoga
2. Hatha Yoga
3. Restorative Yoga
5. Forrest Yoga
6. Integral Yoga
Is there anything that meditation doesn’t help with? Regular meditation has been shown to lower heart rate and blood pressure, strengthen the immune system, and decrease the amount of stress hormone released by the brain.
There are many different ways to meditate. You can focus for an extended period of time on breathing or mantra repetition. You an also practice “mindfulness,” which involves regarding the thoughts and feelings that come to you as though you were simply an observer. Think of your thoughts as cars driving on a freeway, and you as an observer sitting off to the side of the freeway, simply watching the cars go by. This can help you detach from the thoughts and realize that they are not you, they are just your thoughts.
By allowing thoughts to come and go without judging or reacting to them, they will slowly lose their power. Not only will this relieve the stress of worrying, it will also give you a sense of control over how you feel. This is especially important in alleviating the feelings of hopelessness associated with depression.
As with everything else, meditation takes consistency. It isn’t always easy, especially at the beginning. However, with practice and perseverance, it will become easier and more enjoyable. Aim for 10 minutes a day if just starting out. Eventually aim to increase your practice to 20-30 minutes a day.
New to meditation? Check out some of YogaToday’s guided meditations here.
OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS – DHA/EPA
Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil may be helpful in maintaining a healthy emotional balance. Out of the eleven omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA seem to be the most important for optimal brain health. EPA increases serotonin release from presynaptic neurons by reducing inflammatory signaling molecules in the brain that inhibit serotonin release. DHA also influences the action of various serotonin receptors by making them more accessible to serotonin by increasing cell membrane fluidity in postsynaptic neurons.
More than 70 percent of the population of the United States is deficient in vitamin D – yikes! Vitamin D levels influence immune function, mood and mental cognition, cardiovascular and so much more. Most importantly in this case, vitamin D regulates the conversion of the essential amino acid, tryptophan, into serotonin.
When it comes to how to fight seasonal depression naturally, light therapy can be a very effective tool. Bright light stimulates cells in the retina that connect to the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that helps control circadian rhythms. Activating the hypothalamus at a certain time every day can restore a normal circadian rhythm and thus banish seasonal symptoms.
YOUR PLAN OF ACTION FOR FIGHTING SEASONAL DEPRESSION
A thorough plan for fighting seasonal depression would involve incorporating yoga into your daily routine, increasing exposure to light, monitoring your diet and sleep patterns, adding in supportive supplements, and increasing exercise levels. As always, whenever starting anything new, keep it simple. Identify a few adjustments that you can make to your current routine and put them into play first. Once these become a part of your routine, feel free to add in other elements, as opposed to overhauling your entire routine right away. The easier it feels, the more consistent you can be. And the more consistent you are, the greater your results will be.