Written by Joe G. Santos
Without a doubt, this year has been one of the most universally challenging in the past few decades. We started what was supposed to be the new roaring 20s on the wrong foot, but somehow we are still here and have managed to foster our way into this present moment. With the year's steady progression (in the northern hemisphere), you are just starting to see the coming winter's signs. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a commonly experienced symptom of the season, but how do we prepare for it when—at times—the whole year has felt like one long winter? Generally, we can take a few steps to soothe the emotional pain caused by this mental ailment, but with the additional challenge of working around COVID-19, some aspects of winter self-care might have to adapt and change. To experience the spiritual and physical metamorphosis that the planet we reside on is going through, we will have to get through this winter whole. As we wait for the season to come, we must use the autumn and early winter to gear up and gather as many resources as possible to solidify our success. Deep down, we are still like our hunter-gatherer ancestors, so let us learn a lesson from them and collect all the herbs, oils, crystals, and information necessary to get through this winter.
Seasonal Affective Disorder and depression are closely linked. In fact, despite popular belief, according to the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), SAD is not a distinct mental disorder. Instead, it is used as an umbrella term to describe depressive disorders that show harsher symptoms seasonally, coining the alternate name: Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Pattern (DDSP). Although these symptoms are more commonly associated with the winter, it is not exclusive to the season.
Like most other mental illnesses, our current science still has a hard time pinpointing a specific cause of SAD. Studies show results that point to the trigger being the winter's shorter days and our curtailed sunlight exposure. Sunlight is the primary way our body synthesizes vitamin D, an essential nutrient in biological functionality. When the body becomes depleted of this nutrient, fatigue and mood changes are a common consequence. Still, this relationship does not explain the existence of patients with SAD during the other seasons.
If you are unsure if you have SAD, speaking with a mental professional is the best way to clarify your worries. However, personal research is a huge part of self-care, and for that reason, a list of symptoms as per the DSM (5th edition) can be found below. When doing your research, please keep in mind that self-diagnosis is only half of the process. The next step is to contact an expert to bring further insight into your situation.
You may have SAD if you have experienced at least 5 of these symptoms simultaneously or sporadically for two weeks or longer:
If you are currently dealing with the last symptom, here is a list of Suicide Hotlines worldwide. Remember, you are a vital part of all of existence, and there is nothing wrong with seeking help. Additionally, below you will find a few natural ways proven to help minimize the symptoms of SAD.
There are many courses online and Youtube channels full of resources and new things to explore. Still, occasionally it is good to step away from your computer or phone for a moment. For these occasions, a good old book serves as a splendid companion in these colder days. If you're struggling to overcome a bout of SAD, there is nothing better than a book that explores our brains' adaptability. The book The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge is an excellent resource on brain-plasticity that might just enlighten you on ways to work with your mind to overcome this seasonal obstacle. This New York Times bestseller gives a digestible scientific outlook on the brain's capacity to heal itself from physical and non-physical damage. It includes case studies of different disabilities that will surprise you and inspire you, illuminating the fact that SAD is not permanent.
Pharmaceuticals are slowly but steadily getting a review in the public eye. As awareness increases, more and more people turn to natural medicine to treat mild and even terminal diseases. Although, if you are experiencing severe SAD symptoms, such as chronic hopelessness, you should visit a trained professional without any shame. However, if that is not your scenario, below, you will find a few plant medicines that can help alleviate some of the winter blues' inconveniences.
This ancient root is commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine as a Rasayana. This modality has a significant focus on treating aging or frailed bodies and aims to spark life and energy back into the person undergoing treatment. The root is primarily used to treat anxiety but uses range from the treatment of gastric ulcers, Parkinson's diseases, and studies on Chinese Hamsters suffering from ovary cancer may suggest that it may even have an anti-tumor effect. All these versatile uses aside, a double-blind, placebo-controlled study by K. Chandrasekhar demonstrated significant effectivity in reducing cortisol levels on patients formally diagnosed with chronic stress.
This plant is no newbie to the plant medicine roster. One of the main ingredients of Ancient Greek medicine, Theriac, is described in the book In the Arms of Morpheus: The Tragic History of Morphine, Laudanum, and Patent Medicines. The Greeks believed the drug to be an antidote to every reptile derivative poison. Fast forward to today, in Europe, the ingredient is commonly prescribed to patients suffering from one of the few toxins we have not found a certified antidote for yet: depression. In 2008 the Chrocrane Library published a review of 29 trials with a sample size of over 5000 patients suffering from long-term depression. Results demonstrate that the plant is just as effective as some pharmaceuticals. Additionally, the number of patients that experienced negative side-effects is considerably low in comparison.
Perhaps one of the most popular medicinal mushrooms now, Lion's mane (LM), is a multifaceted and inexpensive option to alleviating seasonal depression. Although these mushrooms are rare in your average pantry in the West, this ingredient is a tremendous and delectable addition to your diet as well as your plant medicine tool-belt. Even though finding a new LM recipe is a sure-fire way to keep yourself entertained indoors, the medical benefits of this mushroom are the reason why it's on this list. A study led by Mayumi Nagano observed the effects of LM on patients with depression, women with menopausal stress, and people with sleep problems. These results were contrastingly positive when compared to the placebo control group. What sets LM apart from the other plants mentioned above is that the previous studies used concentrated plant extracts. In Nagano's research, however, the patients were given Lion's Mane cookies as part of the treatment, making it very accessible and easily integrated into your routine.
There are vigorous debates on the validity of crystals in medical treatments. This tool is still widely ignored by mainstream Western medical practices due to the obscurity of a catalyst of quartz (and other mineral formations) usage in mental and physical disorder mitigation. Despite the West's lack of academic acceptance, healing crystals have become a popular healing and meditation tool for many beginners and experienced spiritual seekers worldwide. Still, despite the bad rap this healing tool gets in academia, not all researchers think the practice should be discounted entirely; the American neurosurgeon C. Norman Shealy is one of these exceptions.
In one of his hypotheses, Shealy investigates 141 cases of patients suffering from chronic depressive disorders who were unresponsive to conventional treatment. The doctor subjected the patients to a myriad of different alternative therapies. Still, when subjecting the patients to quartz therapy, the doctor observed some particularly curious results. Compared to the placebo control group that only demonstrated a success rate of 30%, the patients treated with real quartz showed an astonishing 70% success rate. Shealy's study on quartz is quite simple to replicate at home, making it a terrific winter experiment that could potentially uplift your mood this winter, and perhaps even permanently if practiced with diligence. The only materials you will need are a candle, a crystal, and yourself.
Popular belief says that you will know which one is the right one when looking for a crystal. It is believed that there is a pre-existing bond between you and your future healer companion that is created in some mysterious way. For that reason, and the additional lack of specification in Shealy's thesis, any crystal quartz will serve this experiment's purposes. However, allow for a quick author's suggestion: smoky quartz.
Upon first glance, smoky quartz (SQ) looks dark and mysterious. When one compares it to its relative crystal, clear quartz, this ancient mineral formation is akin to its counterpart's dead version. Still, within this morose description lies a hidden beauty, a sparkle within the smoke. SQ can be used to invoke the death of emotions and circumstances that no longer serve your higher good, to open the way for the rebirth of a new way of feeling. To the ancient druids, this stone represented the destructive and metamorphic forces present within the male and female polarities of the earth element; this quality also points to possibilities in using the stone for manifestations. SQ can be a great instigator of change, and its grounding earth energies can be supplemental on your journey to overcome SAD. Often, a big part of depression is the inability to live fully and comfortably in the present independently of external circumstances. Yet, using this quartz's subtle powers will help you rebalance and reconnect with your root chakra, Muladhara, which combats unnecessary painful nostalgia and future anxieties.
Shealy guided his patients to do as follows:
First, light a candle and get your crystal.
Before you do anything, it is vital to clear the crystal of all stored and stagnant energy. Pass the quartz through the candle flame as you actively think of those energies being removed. In his paper, the doctor does not specify a specific duration for this step. In this case, an intuitive approach is encouraged. Do it for as long as you feel you need it. No time is too long nor short.
Following that, Shealy asked the patients to breathe out into their crystals three times while thinking of a positive affirmation (i.e., "I am happy and joyous"). However, if you are to make this a part of your daily practice, turning it into a meditation is an excellent way to do it.
Sit down comfortably and raise the crystal to a level where the air you breathe out will reach it. You can count the length of your breaths to ensure a steady pulse. If you want to take it to the next level, you can use a metronome to lock you into a beat. Hold your breath after every inhale and exhale, making the duration of each breath and holds four pulses long. Do this three times.
Shealy suggests that you repeat this for two weeks. Still, if you are feeling up for a challenge, why not do it for the whole winter? Journaling daily to keep in touch with the subtle changes may enlighten you to some surprising results.
The battle against mental illnesses has been going on for quite some time. That just exemplifies the great challenge that it is to cure these mysterious, intangible maladies. With that being said, this article surely will not be the only thing we will need to eradicate Seasonal Affective Disorder. Still, it is only by taking one step at a time and utilizing all available resources that we reach our destination successfully. As much as a certified cure seems a little distant to our current scientific paradigm, there are many ancient tools such as plant medicine and crystal energy healing that can help alleviate the burdensome repercussions of SAD.
Moreover, despite the absence of a straightforward solution to these problems, we have to remind ourselves daily to be grateful for the incredibly adaptable brains we have. Brain-plasticity is the key to healing all mental illnesses. It is the thing that tells us that no matter the current state of our brains—or our mood—we are physically capable of completely changing the core structure of how our minds process emotions, ideas, and even movement. With that, if you are indeed dealing with SAD, do not be discouraged; the things you can do to alter your situation are endless. Hopefully, after reading this, you found a few actionable options.
About the author: Joe G. Santos
Writer, Thinker, and Visionary. Through writing, I aim to clarify the most pressing questions about human behavior and world issues, pointing to practical resolutions in an entertaining and accessible manner. You can find my work and contact me at https://www.joegwriting.com/.
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