What To Do About Seasonal Affective Disorder

Winter can be rough on everyone. Shorter days, longer nights, less sun, and colder temperatures start to take their toll. This can get especially depressing after the lights from the holiday season are taken down.

This is when Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can crop up and wreak havoc on our minds and bodies. The most common symptoms are depression, lack of motivation or enjoyment of favorite activities, cravings for carbohydrate-rich food, weight gain, sleeping more, less energy and difficulty concentrating.

It can be frustrating to deal with these issues, especially when our culture expects us to be hard-working, productive and happy every day. What we sometimes fail to realize is that we are a part of nature, not separate from it. So when the animals and plants outside are slowing down, hibernating, and preparing for the Spring, we should be too. It’s actually healthy to take a little more down time in the Winter. Slow down, spend some time in bed, read, journal, and plan your next move. Embrace the dip in energy and do some inward reflection. I talk more about embracing seasonal change here.

In fact, in parts of the world that experience extreme cold and very short days, like in Scandinavia, they have a word for doing just this. Hygge is a practice that celebrates this time of year with fireplaces, cozy blankets, warm tea and sweaters.

Nothing in nature is productive all year. Plants stop producing leaves, flowers and fruit, and animals aren’t mating or reproducing. Instead, they are gathering up their energy so that they can “spring forth” when the next season arrives. Sometimes all we need is a little compassion for ourselves, and an understanding that this is normal and ok. Once we stop beating ourselves up for not being more productive and happy, we can relax into this time of year and enjoy it.

However, if your seasonal depression goes above and beyond this normal reaction to winter, and you’ve tried slowing down and embracing it with little effect, fear not. You have natural options that can help get you back on track.

1. Herbs

Master herbalist David Winston recommends combining St. Johns Wort and Lemon Balm for SAD. There is a synergistic effect that happens when these two work together. I prefer them in liquid/tincture form. Combine a full dropperful of each in a glass. Pour a small amount of hot water over and drink. Liquid extracts and tinctures use alcohol as a preservative, but if you are avoiding alcohol, just use boiling water, and give the mixture 5 minutes for the alcohol to evaporate before drinking. Take this mixture 2-3 times a day throughout the winter months.

2. Flower Essences

Flower essences (or elixirs as I like to call them) are very subtle herbal remedies that work directly on your mental and emotional levels. Mustard and Borage are two of my favorites for depression. You can find Bach’s remedies at most natural food and supplement stores, and you may want to do some research to see if there are other remedies that are more specific to you. Once you’ve chosen your essences, place a few drops of each into a dropper bottle. Fill the bottle with ¼ preservative (brandy, vinegar or glycerin) and ¾ water. Take 4 drops under your tongue 3-5 times a day. Since this is vibrational medicine, taking more drops doesn’t work any better, but taking them more often will increase the effects.

3. Get Outside

A completely free fix to the most insidious depression is to spend some time outside. Get outside as often as you can, and even work it into your dairy routine if you can. Bonus points for taking a walk/hike in natural surroundings, but if all you can muster is to sit on the porch for 15 minutes, at least do that. You can work your way up to taking a walk or moving around in some way. Make sure to bundle up before you go out, and you can look forward to savoring a warm beverage when you get back inside.

4. Chinese Medicine

If you’re to the point where you need professional help, don’t hesitate to reach out to your acupuncturist. Acupuncture can lift your spirits and get you feeling like your old self again. In addition, many acupuncturists are also trained in other aspects of Chinese medicine like herbs, flower essences and essential oils. A trained professional knows how to use these tools in a sophisticated and individualized way so that you get the most benefit. These tools can help to extend your acupuncture treatments as well.

With a little help, we should all be able to slow down, relax, and actually enjoy this time of the year!


Elizabeth Williams is an acupuncturist in Greenville, South Carolina, specializing in pain management, women’s health, and psycho-emotional issues. She’s passionate about helping people feel their best and sharing her wealth of knowledge with the community. Elizabeth is the owner of Dragonfly Acupuncture & Massage, on Wade Hampton Boulevard. Appointments can be made by calling 864-451-4313, or scheduled online here.