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Ways to Combat Seasonal Affective Disorder Naturally

Woman sitting in front of window in winter next to laptop

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder & Can it Cause Pain?

Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression related to seasonal changes. According to Psychology Today, experts estimate around 10 million Americans suffer from SAD. Most people are not aware their “winter blues” may be something more, or that it could be affecting their chronic pain.

December is Seasonal Affective Disorder Awareness Month. To live a healthier, happier life, it is important to treat the symptoms of both depression and pain. This article highlights the link between chronic pain and depression, and how natural remedies like Doctor Hoy’s® can help relieve pain symptoms.

The Link Between Depression and Physical Pain

Physical pain and depression are closely related. Vague aches and pains, digestive problems, back pain, joint pain, and more are common in people with a depressive mood disorder. The reason why depression and seasonal affective disorder cause physical pain could be biological.

Somber woman with hand placed behind her neck

Can depression cause physical pain?

Serotonin and norepinephrine are neurotransmitters in the brain that influence pain and mood. An imbalance of each may explain why some people feel both physical pain and depression. As the depressive mood worsens, the body’s chemical response increases pain sensitivity. That pain fosters a negative mood, creating a vicious cycle of hurt.

Patients with chronic pain can be four times more likely to develop a mental illness as the symptoms feed into each other. Fatigue keeps you from regular movement, weakening muscle and bone strength, putting more strain on your joints. Depression can also show up as unexplained physical symptoms like back pain or constant headaches.

When you are happier, you feel less pain. When sad, your body hurts more. The effects that chronic pain has on our lives can worsen our mood and outlook on life. Physical symptoms of depression that cause chronic pain may make treatment more complicated.

Symptoms of SAD

The risk of developing SAD increases with age, starting in young adulthood and affecting women more often than men. There are two kinds of seasonal affective disorder: fall onset, or winter depression and spring onset, or summer depression.

Winter pattern depression is far more common, beginning in late fall to early winter and easing up in summer. Symptoms of winter seasonal affective disorder can include:

  • Feeling sad most of the day
  • Loss of interest in activities you enjoy
  • Social withdrawal
  • Oversleeping
  • Irritability and anxiety
  • Feelings of hopelessness or guilt
  • Trouble focusing or concentrating
  • Low energy, fatigue, or sluggishness
  • Changes in appetite
  • Increased weight gain

SAD can also have symptoms of physical pain. Mental stress, sleep problems, and a poor diet are known to increase inflammation in the body while fatigue exacerbates feelings of pain.

Man sitting on bedside in dark bedroom

Causes & Risk Factors

The exact cause of SAD is unknown, but it likely has something to do with seasonal changes and reduced sunlight. In the winter, less sunlight throws off our biological clock. With the shorter days, our bodies produce more of the sleep hormone melatonin and less serotonin and Vitamin D, which are essential in regulating mood.

Other risk factors for developing SAD include:

  • Genetics: Blood relatives with SAD can increase someone’s chances.
  • Pre-existing conditions: Previously diagnosed clinical depression can worsen in the winter. Bipolar disorder, anxiety, and eating disorders can also increase the risk of seasonal depression.
  • Location: The further someone lives from the equator, particularly up north, the greater the changes in sunlight and reduced temperature.
  • Low vitamin D: Sunlight helps produce vitamin D in the skin, but if your diet is already lacking, then you might struggle with depression in winter.

How do you treat SAD naturally?

Depression is not the same as feeling sad. If you feel depressed or experience a sudden and persistent change in mood once winter hits, talk to your healthcare provider. Seeking help for depression is crucial, and there is nothing wrong with doing so.

The best treatment for co-occurring pain and seasonal depression is a combination of medication and psychotherapy. In addition to your doctor’s prescribed plan, lifestyle changes, homeopathic remedies and self-care techniques are natural ways to treat SAD:

  • GET SOME SUN: Spending more time in a sunlit area, by a window, or outside in the fresh air can increase levels of vitamin D and improve your mood.
  • EXERCISE: Regular exercise helps relieve stress naturally. The results may lift your self-esteem, help you feel better about yourself, and boost your overall mood. Exercise for depression and chronic pain might look like going for a hike, trying yoga, or starting a workout routine.
  • LIGHT THERAPY: A light therapy box for SAD is a device that mimics natural outdoor light. Also called SAD lamps, they are designed to help treat depression by making up for the lack of sunlight in winter.
  • NATURAL PAIN RELIEVERS: Natural pain relievers like Doctor Hoy’s Natural Pain Relief Gel and Arnica Boost Recovery Cream provide instant, effective relief from back pain, joint pain, and more using natural ingredients. They are formulated to not interfere with other medications.
  • GO EASY ON YOURSELF: If winter is hard on you, set realistic goals and avoid taking on too many responsibilities. Your health is your biggest accomplishment. For advice on goal setting with chronic pain, see our article on making New Year’s resolutions.
  • EAT A BALANCED DIET: Avoid restricting yourself from the foods you enjoy. Instead, focus on a healthy, balanced diet that’s rich in nutrients and anti-inflammatory whole foods.
  • SET A BEDTIME: Too much or not enough sleep is a common symptom of seasonal affective disorder. Setting up a bedtime routine like going to bed at the same time each night promotes healthy sleep, normalizing sleep patterns and limiting naps.

Woman holding pain relief gel and looking at shoulder smiling

Treating SAD with Antidepressants & Therapy

A physician or psychiatrist can diagnose seasonal affective disorder with a mental health exam and prescribe the necessary medications. Antidepressants help correct chemical imbalances in the brain that can lead to SAD. They may also be useful in relieving co-occurring pain.

Certain types of talk therapy, like cognitive behavioral therapy or interpersonal therapy, also help treat depression. Speaking to a therapist or psychiatrist can help you understand how you see yourself and your environment and what may be the underlying cause of negative emotions.

If you have chronic pain and experience symptoms of depression, talk to your pain management team about adding mental health services to your treatment plan.

patient talking to therapist who is taking notes

Use Doctor Hoy’s for Natural, Effective Pain Relief

Always reach out for help and speak to your healthcare provider if you begin to feel depressed, hopeless, or experience physical pain with sadness. Doctor Hoy’s is a natural topical pain reliever that provides soothing relief from physical pain, which may help improve your mood, too. Doctor Hoy’s does not treat seasonal affective disorder, but it may help alleviate some discomfort.

Doctor Hoy’s does not diagnose or prescribe treatment for medical conditions. Our natural pain relief gel and cream can help mitigate physical pain symptoms for those with seasonal affective disorder or depression. Always contact your physician or healthcare provider for medical advice.

References:

Hall-Flavin, D. (2019). Depression can cause pain and pain can cause depression. Mayo Clinic.

Seasonal Affective Disorder. (n.d.). Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (2015). Psychology Today.

Seasonal Affective Disorder. (2020). National Institute of Mental Health.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) - Symptoms and causes. (2021, December 14). Mayo Clinic.

Trivedi, M. H. (2004). The link between depression and physical symptoms. Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 6(Suppl 1), 12–16.

What You Should Know About Seasonal Affective Disorder and Chronic Pain. (2021, December 17).  Redefine Healthcare.

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