Seasonal Affective Disorder Series Part III: Natural Remedies

In this third part of the four-part series addressing Seasonal Affective Disorder in the winter, I will discuss some things anyone can do to mitigate the severity of SAD symptoms without needing to add medications. If you are already taking medications, these strategies may add to the benefits you may be feeling or looking to feel with your current regimen. 

 

1.)  Natural Light- align your schedule as much as possible with the sun. Wake up at sunrise, or even a little before, and spend the time meditating, stretching your body, moving your body in some other way, or even reading/listening to soft music. I don’t recommend starting your day with the news or scrolling through social media. Take the time to be alone with yourself and appreciate the sunrise before having to launch into your day. Sometimes a nice, warm beverage is great too!

a.    Take every opportunity to expose yourself to sunlight throughout each day. Sit next to windows at work if you can. Take lunch breaks in your car if you must! Bundle up and go for walks or enjoy some light yardwork- anything to give you more access to light!

2.)  Other options for light- amber bulbs, especially those that mimic light are preferable over LED bulbs (link: https://www.amazon.com/MiracleLED-604592-Replacing-Replicate-Organically/dp/B07DB4KWSG/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1542046093&sr=8-4&keywords=amber+light+bulbs+sunrise). They block blue light, which can be harmful for your eyes over time, and send mixed messages to your brain about how awake you should be. 

a.    Happy Lamps or other similar products are inexpensive and are a great idea to expose yourself to some natural-simulation light. I use one to wake up as my alarm clock, and it mimics the gradual light of the sunrise. This means a much more natural wakeup process, so by the time my alarm actually goes off I feel rested and ready to wake up. It’s great for those pre-sunrise workout wakeups! 

(link: https://www.amazon.com/Sunrise-Nature-Sounds-Bedside-Simulator/dp/B07FFW8GPX/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1542046222&sr=8-7&keywords=sunrise+alarm+clock+wake+up+light&dpID=41X8Y97jmZL&preST=_SY300_QL70_&dpSrc=srch)

3.)  Mitigate blue light- as mentioned, blue light sends the message that you should be wide awake, which can be harmful to your eyes first thing in the morning and can keep you awake longer at night. Devices, such as TV, computer, phones, and tablets, are a major source of blue light. If you’re trying to sync your body’s rhythms up with the sun, exposing yourself to devices after dark can be a major roadblock. Since it’s getting dark by 5 pm where I’m from, screen exposure after dark is basically unavoidable. There are blue light cancelling glasses that can be worn while having post-sunset screen time in the earlier part of the evening (link: https://www.amazon.com/Blue-Light-Blocking-Glasses-Artificial/dp/B07CXYT17C/ref=sr_1_1_a_it?ie=UTF8&qid=1542046398&sr=8-1-spons&keywords=blue+light+blocking+glasses&psc=1).

a.    Many electronics also have settings where light can be turned down. I have Apple products and can even set a timer each day where the light turns down to a softer amber color, which is less harmful for eyes and allows for better sleep.

4.)  Go to bed earlier! This may be a challenge for many, and falling asleep earlier may be difficult at first. It may be helpful to discuss with your medical professional some vitamins or natural supplements to help you sleep. I take a magnesium gelcap before bed and I wake up feeling fairly refreshed, however it’s important to discuss this with your professional beforehand as everyone’s needs are different, and different bodies will respond differently. Plus, I’m not a medical professional. So don’t take my word for anything- do your research and speak with your doctor!

a.    When it gets dark so early, it’s easy to lose track of time and go to sleep too late. This is a change to get cozy (more on that next week- I’m so excited for that part!), turn off the TV, and grab a book, put on some meditation music, and do whatever you need to do to release your day and embrace sleep. 

5.)  Sleep hygiene- This is important any time of year, but if you don’t want to feel like you’re losing it, it’s even more important in the winter. Some helpful tips:

a.    Try to keep your phone away from your bed or in another room if you can

b.    Maintain a similar routine each day, and commit yourself to it! This means avoiding sleeping late on days off, because your body needs the consistency.

c.     It’s OK to say no to activities if you’re tired. 

d.    Don’t drink anything caffeinated in the afternoon.

e.    Get cozy! Make your bedroom a sanctuary where you want to be! Do this with aromatherapy (just please don’t fall asleep with candles on!), soft sounds, soft lighting, comfy/soft blankets and pillows, and don’t do anything in your bedroom other than sleeping. Keep food and work out of your room- you have other rooms in the house that can be used for that!

f.     Mitigate disturbing noise (anywhere but especially in your bedroom). At night, use theta waves and binaural beats or guided meditations to relax before going to sleep. They basically act as a massage for your brain and nervous system (I’ll get into it more on a later date). This is the only time I advocate for keeping your phone near you at night- using Youtube or apps such as Insight Timer to access these is instrumental in helping me get to sleep each night.

g.    Journaling- I look at this as a “brain dump” of all the things I found myself still carrying from my day. It’s just a nice way to let it all out, process my day and package it all up so that I’m done with it (good or bad) and ready to rest before starting again the next day. 

 

I hope this list has been helpful! Next week we’ll get into my favorite part of this series- the art of getting cozy!

Rebecca L. Toner, MA, LPC

Freer of Souls. Connector to Purpose. Healer of Lives.

Rebecca Toner, MA, LPC is a group private practice owner, EMDR therapist and consultant-in-training, and a life coach operating out of Plainville, CT. She specializes in treating clients with chronic attachment trauma and dissociation, and has passion in working with coaching clients who are learning how to reclaim their power after processing trauma.

Rebecca Toner, MA, LPC is a group private practice owner, EMDR therapist and consultant-in-training, and a life coach operating out of Plainville, CT. She specializes in treating clients with chronic attachment trauma and dissociation, and has passion in working with coaching clients who are learning how to reclaim their power after processing trauma.

Seasonal Affective Disorder Series Part II: How SAD Impacts Other Conditions

Last week, I briefly defined Seasonal Affective Disorder and the very basics of how it works in the winter, and I outlined some of the symptoms most people tend to complain of. This week, I think it’s important to touch on how SAD can impact other conditions.

 

SAD is sometimes tricky because it can have a temporary impact on other mental health conditions. Those suffering from psychotic symptoms, for example, may notice increases in hallucinations, difficulty focusing, harder time waking up (which can be further impacted by medications), weight gain (also an impacted side-effect of medications), or general lethargy. In my practice, I work almost exclusively with clients suffering from PTSD. A hallmark of PTSD can be extended periods of anxiety or depression, which can also be worsened with less access to natural light. In the earlier part of the winter, around the holidays, many of my clients also face trauma/loss anniversaries, triggers from difficult family dynamics, feeling drained by fuller-than-normal social calendars, end-of-year work stuff, etc. And those suffering from bipolar or other mood disorders are even more at risk of depressive periods despite sticking to strict medication, diet, supplement, and exercise regimens. 

 

Maybe reading this information is teaching you something for the first time, or maybe it’s validating something you’ve experienced or are presently experiencing. Either way, these difficulties can make functioning that much more difficult. Now, let’s take a look at some of the impacts of SAD on physical health:

            -weight gain- lethargy, desire to sleep more, and carb/sugar cravings all contribute. This can have lasting impacts on those at risk for diabetes, heart disease, and thyroid issues. 

            -joint pain- For those with fibromyalgia, tick-bourne diseases such as Lyme, arthritis, lupus, etc., winter can be excruciating. We as humans also just have less natural desire to move around in the winter, because it’s way better to stay indoors where it’s warm and bright, which can increase pain. This can be super frustrating to individuals who are used to a more active lifestyle, which can increase hopelessness, frustration, moodiness, and in extreme cases, suicidality. Check on your friends, help them shovel, and make extra effort to connect with those you love whom are struggling, even if it’s not in person (I will get more into natural remedies in next week’s blog). 

            -Headaches- lack of light, wanting to sleep, dietary changes all create the recipe for headaches!

            -other sleep disturbances- because it gets darker earlier, we expose ourselves to more unnatural/blue light after the sun has gone down, especially with technology. This can severely impact sleep (I’ll discuss this more next week as well). Sleep disturbance can cause further weight gain and lethargy during the day, which impacts all areas of functioning and over time, raises cortisol levels in the blood and creates massive health issues.

 

While many doctors recommend medications, I will get into natural remedies and some of the strategies I use to combat the fatigue and moodiness next week! Please stay tuned, and if any of this sounds like you, know that you’re not alone!

 

Rebecca L. Toner, MA, LPC

Freer of Souls. Connector to Purpose. Healer of Lives.

Rebecca Toner, MA, LPC is a group private practice owner, EMDR therapist and consultant-in-training, and a life coach operating out of Plainville, CT. She specializes in treating clients with chronic attachment trauma and dissociation, and has passion in working with coaching clients who are learning how to reclaim their power after processing trauma.

Rebecca Toner, MA, LPC is a group private practice owner, EMDR therapist and consultant-in-training, and a life coach operating out of Plainville, CT. She specializes in treating clients with chronic attachment trauma and dissociation, and has passion in working with coaching clients who are learning how to reclaim their power after processing trauma.

Seasonal Affective Disorder Series Part I: What is it? How Does it Work?

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a very common shift in energy and mood that typically begins and ends around the same time each year. Most people experience an increase in depressive symptoms in the late fall/winter, but others can also experience a sharp increase in energy once the sun returns in the late spring and early summer.

 

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder include: carb and sugar cravings, lethargy, moodiness, and just feeling “in a funk,” according to the Mayo Clinic

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651

In the winter, this can be amplified by holiday-related triggers that can remind us of traumatic or recent losses, tricky family dynamics (especially the ones that leave us having to expend more time and energy on upholding boundaries, and the demands of the holiday social schedule can leave us feeling zapped, moody, and overwhelmed, especially with the ever- decreasing access to light in the winter. 

 

Also, according to the Mayo Clinic, other symptoms can include feelings of hopelessness, guilt, trouble concentrating, changes in weight/appetite, trouble sleeping or oversleeping, and loss of interest in preferred activities.

 

The reason is believed to be due to the lack of light- in winter, New England (where I live) is dark more hours of the day than it is light. This, coupled with snowstorms, frigid temperatures, and ugly words like “wind chill factor” can make even the most well-adjusted person feel despondent and isolated. Plus, winter can start as early as October/November and last all the way until mid-April. It can feel like it will never end and like it has been cold and dark forever!

 

I don’t want you thinking that this blog is intended to create more hopelessness about the winter than you may already have. The good news is, there are tons of tips for battling SAD in the winter that I will be touching on in this upcoming blog series. That way, you can hopefully look forward to at least one small part of your day and find the energy and tools to create some meaningful daily practices to leave you feeling more hopeful and fulfilled.

 

In the next several weeks, join us on the blog to discuss how SAD can impact pre-existing mental and physical health conditions, natural remedies to ease symptoms of SAD, and some ways to remind yourself of some of the best parts of winter, even if you hate the cold weather! If you find that you need to connect with someone to manage more acute symptoms, don’t hesitate to reach out!

 

Rebecca L. Toner, MA, LPC

Freer of Souls. Connector to Purpose. Healer of Lives.

Rebecca Toner, MA, LPC is a group private practice owner, EMDR therapist and consultant-in-training, and a life coach operating out of Plainville, CT. She specializes in treating clients with chronic attachment trauma and dissociation, and has passion in working with coaching clients who are learning how to reclaim their power after processing trauma.

Rebecca Toner, MA, LPC is a group private practice owner, EMDR therapist and consultant-in-training, and a life coach operating out of Plainville, CT. She specializes in treating clients with chronic attachment trauma and dissociation, and has passion in working with coaching clients who are learning how to reclaim their power after processing trauma.

Mindful Monday

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Today’s Mindful Monday resource comes to us from an article in Time Magazine. The writer delves into the benefits of yoga and its impact on depression and other symptoms of various mental illnesses! Consider this your invitation to start small, be alone with your body, and start repairing your relationship with it by first learning how to listen to it!

http://time.com/4695558/yoga-breathing-depression/?fbclid=IwAR0dTHyFBew2rIyE5kRKgH5fw53qrkjhyPiZMYG1GShJs82_8haImaJsxak

How Therapy Helps Unlearn Procedural Learning

Previously in a social media post, I touched very briefly about procedural learning and its implications with trauma. I realize that can sound like a death sentence, and I wanted the chance to explain a little more as someone who works with this material every day. Basically, procedural learning can work both ways- negative things can be unlearned, and then new learning can be put in its place. 

For a solid example and recap of how general procedural learning works, follow this link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFzDaBzBlL0

 

As we become adults, our brains are less plastic than they were when we were kids, meaning it’s somewhat harder to learn new things because our brains are fully formed. Basically, due to our ages as adults, there’s more information to sift through and unlearn. There has to be more time to reinforce that which we know, which means the negative procedural learning of trauma patterns have had more time to be ingrained into our brains.

 

How does the process of unlearning procedural learning begin? Well, we do it small ways fairly often on our own. When we’re trying to do something one way and it doesn’t work, we try a new sequence or new approach until we are able to achieve the results we want.

 

Like the guy in the backwards brain bike video, our brains need time to make new connections. As with the man in the video, this can take months, or even years, with daily practice. The same principles apply in therapy when addressing anxiety and trauma.

 

In sessions, I generally frame it like this: I like to identify a moment when a client had a panic/anxiety attack that had them feeling triggered. We then break down, moment-by-moment, what triggered the reaction and what the steps are to their reaction buildup. We look for patterns, and we discuss which parts feel the worst or most outside of the client’s control. Then, depending on the client’s treatment plan and our already established goals, we either do some sort of talk therapy to identify possible shifts in thinking and behavior that can be made while the client is still feeling like they can manage their response to the trigger. The other option I use is EMDR to reprocess the trigger and the feeling of not being in control. The eye movements in EMDR (more information at www.emdria.org) can help make new neural connections to change where certain procedural memories are stored in the brain, so that the memories can be recalled with an appropriate amount of feeling in a voluntary basis as opposed to involuntary and disproportionate reactions from re-living a trauma.

 

With something like attachment trauma, which is where I specialize, the procedural learning of the trauma reaction (anxiety, dissociation, physical reactions) often happens before the age at which a child is able to speak, and long before they can articulate what they are experiencing. This is usually before the corpus callossum is developed enough for the child to be able to self-soothe. You can imagine that the same patterns throughout that child’s lifetime can create a long, difficult, but very possible road for unlearning reactions to triggers. This process is extremely difficult, but the payoff is beyond worthwhile. It takes patience, daily practice outside of therapy appointments, strong rapport with a good clinician, solid natural supports, and the biggest undertaking of all for those who have attachment trauma- extra kindness toward oneself throughout the entire process.

Procedural learning is just that- learning. While it may take a long time and lots of patience, it can be unlearned and then re-learned. It should be noted that adults often become frustrated during the process because they forget that they are trying to unlearn one thing and re-learn something else simultaneously. I just want you to know, dear reader, that it is NEVER too late, and there is no issue that is “too far gone” if you’re willing to commit to healing and creating a strong relationship with the right therapist. If you’re ready to learn something new that feels more empowering than your usual response to triggers, if you’re ready to commit to a new practice that includes lots of self-love and patience, reach out to a therapist!

Rebecca L. Toner, MA, LPC

Freer of Souls. Connector to Purpose. Healer of Lives.

Rebecca Toner, MA, LPC is a group private practice owner, EMDR therapist and consultant-in-training, and a life coach operating out of Plainville, CT. She specializes in treating clients with chronic attachment trauma and dissociation, and has passion in working with coaching clients who are learning how to reclaim their power after processing trauma.

Rebecca Toner, MA, LPC is a group private practice owner, EMDR therapist and consultant-in-training, and a life coach operating out of Plainville, CT. She specializes in treating clients with chronic attachment trauma and dissociation, and has passion in working with coaching clients who are learning how to reclaim their power after processing trauma.