For some people the longer nights and shorter, colder days of winter bring with them seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The symptoms of SAD, which can appear as early as late fall, include depression, loss of energy, anxiety, oversleeping, loss of interest in activities formerly enjoyed, craving foods heavy in carbohydrates and sugar (and subsequent weight gain), loss of libido, and difficulty concentrating. Natural remedies, such as those administered by homeopaths and naturopathic doctors, offer an individualized approach to SAD that takes into account the whole person and seeks to help the body restore itself to a state of wellbeing.
As a naturopath practitioner, Dr. Dawn Eller’s training was similar to that of a medical doctor up to the point of therapy, where her training focused on nutrition, herbal remedies, and homeopathy. “A lot of symptoms can start in the digestive tract,” explained Eller. “We have all this nervous tissue there. So if something is off in our digestive tract, our nervous system will be more sensitive. If you’re experiencing digestive issues along with SAD symptoms, a foundational piece of the remedy will be probiotics.”
“Lemon balm has an uplifting and calming effect, so I might suggest that,” said Eller. “If the person had an anxious edge to the depression, I would put something like kava or oats in their remedy to soothe their anxiety. If grief is involved, I’d add something that’s nurturing to their heart, lungs, or adrenals. Rhodiola is great—it helps your adrenals work a little more so you’re not so tired and down.” Light boxes can also be helpful in the winter, suggested Eller, particularly full spectrum lights that are timed to wake you up in the morning.
“Something else to think about are vitamin D levels, especially in our area,” said Eller. “There’s a chronic problem with vitamin D levels, which affects our nervous system and immune system in serious ways. So you could try out taking some vitamin D.”
Classical homeopath Carrie Stearns explained that not everyone experiences depression in the same way. As such, discovering your unique set of characteristics is an integral step to selecting natural remedies. “Homeopathy is individually based. Anything that ails us, whether SAD, a sore throat, or a migraine, everyone has their own way of experiencing it and those symptoms are the way homeopathy determines the remedy,” said Stearns. “For instance a chilly person who is sensitive to cold would need one remedy, while a person who is warm and dislikes heat would need a different modality. That’s what makes the remedy so effective—it is about creating a resonance with the person.”
Stearns has seen success with aurum metallicum, a remedy made from gold. “Aurum is sometimes prescribed when people have a very deep depression and darkness is particularly difficult for them,” said Stearns. “Phosphorus is a very light substance and a common remedy with SAD. It helps with a lot of issues around light and darkness.”
“One of the main things is when the sunlight decreases and cloudiness increases, which Ithaca is pretty famous for, you realize you’re feeling lower energy, low-spirit, a loss in sexual interest and the sense of dread for the winter months,” said Stearns. “People I’ve seen struggling with SAD are the type of people who love to be out in the sun, and the craving for that can be so strong it’s hard to get up in the morning.”
Registered practitioner Jamie Levesque practices the Bach Flower system developed by Dr. Edward Bach, which utilizes 38 flowers to help with basic emotional problems, such as anger, anxiety, fear, low self-confidence and depression, as well as eating disorders, panic attacks, grief, fatigue, and helping to maintain health during pregnancy and postpartum.
“In terms of SAD, it depends on why the person is feeling down,” said Levesque. “For example, people get a feeling of deep gloom that comes and goes. The remedy for that is mustard which helps restore your natural sense of happiness.”
“Some people get a Monday morning feeling, like they won’t be able to deal with the day, and life feels boring or stale. The remedy is hornbeam, which helps lift you out of the funk and helps you get going. Once you get going, the tiredness goes away. A lot people can become impatient, particularly around March. If people are getting irritable because it’s not spring, the remedy is the flower impatiens. For anxiety without a specific reason, the remedy is aspen.” •