Features and Occasionals, Shall We Dance

Seasonal Affective Disorder: Home Remedies for the Winter Blues

By Alice Toler

Does the winter gloom get you down? Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects many of us, particularly youth and women, during the darker months of the year. It is thought to be connected with melatonin production, which the body secretes more of in the dark. (Melatonin controls hibernation in animals.) Avoid the overprescribed SSRI antidepressant pharmaceuticals and look for relief with these alternative therapies.

• Make sure to get your Vitamin D3. Lack of sunshine in the winter leads to plummeting levels of Vita­min D3 in the body, causing the immune system to tank and inviting in winter colds and flu. Deficiency in this vitamin has been shown to cause depression. Take either liquid-filled capsules or liquid drops for optimal effectiveness—the chalky horse-pills aren’t easily metabolized.

• Walk outside at the brightest time of day. Boost your metabolism and make use of what little light there is by getting out and about. Turn your compost heap when it’s not snowy, and shovel your neighbors’ walkways as well as your own when it is—you’ll be doing everyone a favor.

• Avoid alcohol or caffeine. They can cause more symptoms than they cure.

• Read The Winter Blues by Norman E. Rosenthal, M.D.; www.normanrosenthal.com.

• Eat foods rich in tryptophan: meat (especially turkey), milk, egg whites, tofu, walnuts, almonds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds. That second S in SSRI antidepressants is for seratonin; their purpose is to increase the amount of this important neurotransmitter in your system. DIY with foods rich in trypto­phan—the only amino acid that can be converted directly into serotonin.

• Incorporate essential oils into your daily life: Basil, bergamot, chamomile, clary sage, geranium, jasmine, lavender, melissa, neroli, patchouli, rose, sandalwood and ylang ylang can assist in relieving depression, according to Suzanne Bovenizer, CMT, CST. Stimulate and awaken your system with rosemary, peppermint, lemon, basil, ginger, tea tree and cypress.


• Use an aroma lamp.

• Mix a few drops with coconut oil and massage into skin, particularly the bottoms of your feet.

• Mix with sea or epsom salts and add to bath water.

• Get happy with a SAD light. There are dozens of phototherapy lights available on the market, and bright light has been used to combat the winter blues for over 20 years now. Floor lamps, desk lamps, and light boxes galore can be found online or in local shops. Look for a lamp that provides 10,000 lux intensity at a comfortable sitting distance, and which has a diffusing screen to filter out UV rays that can be irritating and harmful to your eyes and skin in large doses. The lamp should be positioned so that the light is projected downward, to avoid visual glare. SAD lamps like the Uplift Technol­o­gies DL930 retail for around $150; smaller alternatives are available for as little as $40. A mood reversal should be noticeable in two to three days.

• Bypass the optic nerve altogether by trying light-emitting earbuds if your eyes are too sensitive for a SAD light. Potentially photosensitive proteins called melanopsin and panopsin exist in the human brain. In theory, shining a bright enough light into the ear canal should allow light to physically penetrate the brain, activating the opsin proteins and alleviating SAD symptoms at their source. Recent studies on a light-emitting-earbud by maker Valkee seem to show some effectiveness. The headsets cost around $300, though, which seems pretty steep for a couple of bright LEDs attached to a timer device.

• Might other issues be the source of your lethargy? An underactive thyroid can cause SAD-like symptoms. Learn more, and decide if you need to visit a doctor. 

—Alice Toler


Coping: When the Inversion Has You Upside Down

“Inversion” is a meteoological term having to do with temperature and air density. The word enters a Utahn’s lexicon when we notice that the airborne detritus of our daily lives doesn’t drift “away,” but stays put and, in fact, accumulates. It is as if a lid has been placed on the vessel that is our valley.

A black bubble

This impermeable bubble traps cold air and pollution that is locked in by warm air pressing down from above. As this cold air and pollution circulate within the bubble, we begin to witness darker skies and to experience respiratory irritation and congestion. This toxic bubble can be popped only by elements that are far beyond our control (unless, of course, you are well versed in the art of American Indian snow dancing, in which case you had better organize a team and get your groove on!). We live with the effects of the inversion until it is finally whisked away by a healthy snow or wind storm.

The inversion’s biggest effect is its impact on the lungs. This can be problematic for people with respiratory conditions such as asthma. As with many other health issues, the inversion’s biggest impact is on sensitive groups. But sensitive or not, it affects us all.

In the meantime

Besides moving elsewhere, there are ways to cope as we wait for relief.

• Sleep with a humidifier or invest in a facial steamer.

• Talk to your doctor about getting an inhaler if you get inversion-induced asthma.

• Invest in some air-filtering house plants. NASA suggests the Areca Palm, Mother-in-Law’s Tongue (aka snake plant), the Rubber Fig, spider plant, some philodendrons and the Money Plant.

• Check out your local health and nutrition stores and ask about respiratory health remedies, immunity boosters and anti-oxidants. For instance, Dave’s Health and Nutri­tion recommends Dave’s Respiratory Formula, which contains elecampane, ground ivy, sage leaf, speedwell and hawthorn to relieve common symptoms of the inversion such as shallow coughs and lung congestion.

The light beyond the bubble

Salvation does come. Spring will bring with it warmer weather and clearer skies. As we enjoy the upcoming spring and summer, let us remember one thing. Although the inversion may dissipate until the next winter, it is up to each of us to do our part now to reduce our carbon footprints so that the inversion can begin improving rather than continue worsening in years to follow.

Jayne Ann Boud is a senior in the Communication Department at the U of U and an intern this semester at CATALYST. She loves creative writing, oil painting, yoga, ballroom dance and dropping the Oxford Comma. She takes TRAX to work. We heartily approve of all these activities.

This article was originally published on February 1, 2013.