An Oily Approach: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Do you feel like curling up under the covers and never coming out?  Maybe you feel like you’ve lost your “get up n go”.  Whatever you choose to call it; winter blues, winter depression, or seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD, you may find yourself feeling some of the symptoms of this seasonal syndrome.  Unless you happen to live in a tropical paradise, many of us feel a sense of sadness, loss and lethargy as the days grow shorter, the weather gets colder and we spend more time indoors.

The cause of seasonal affective disorder is actually unknown, but most researchers believe it is related to low serotonin levels, overproduction of melatonin and low levels of vitamin D as a result of reduced daily sunlight. Hallmark symptoms of SAD are the desire to sleep too much yet still feel tired, overeating and weight gain, struggling to focus, feelings of emptiness and general irritability.


It seems our brain and body are naturally programmed to follow the path of the sun, but when the winter darkness sets in, many of us get no sunlight at all since we spend a good part of the sunlit day indoors at work or simply indoors because it’s too cold outside. This influences our hormones, which in turn disrupts our circadian rhythm causing us to go to sleep later than we should, crave more carbs and withdraw socially. And guess what?  Women are much more likely to be affected by this than men – lucky us.

Enter essential oils.  Here’s how they can assist in relieving the winter doldrums.  When inhaled, they head straight for the limbic system, which is also related to our endocrine system that allows for balanced production and release of our hormones.  The tiny molecules of essential oils pass through the blood brain barrier and stimulate the hypothalamus.  Our hypothalamus is the link between our endocrine system and our nervous system.  It is here that our hunger, thirst, response to pleasure, pain and stress are regulated.  Clearly this would have a tremendous influence on our mood.

So let’s go back to the idea of too much melatonin for a moment.  Melatonin is a sleep related hormone produced by our pineal gland in low light and darkness.  Not enough sunlight – too much melatonin –  which makes us want to sleep and keep sleeping and not necessarily a good sleep either. This makes us irritable, anxious and we have difficulty concentrating when we’re awake.  Essential oils you can use to awaken your system are Peppermint, Lemon, Basil, Rosemary and Cypress to name a few.  If fitful sleep patterns are making you feel anxious and irritable you can try Chamomile, Lavender, Clary Sage and Rose. To help with overeating and over indulgence try Bergamot and Juniper.  To make you feel more connected and social, Cinnamon, Cloves, Nutmeg and Ginger would be good choices.  To promote a positive attitude, go for Frankincense, Cedarwood, Sandalwood, Jasmine, Orange and Ylang Ylang.


So rather than wait until spring to snap out of this, wouldn’t it be better to be able to enjoy winter to the fullest?  Massage, inhalation and diffusion of these essential oils will not only uplift your spirits, but also boost your immune system, regulate your hormones, and create an overall sense of well- being.  Just because the weather is gloomy, doesn’t mean you have to be.


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