Clinical Aromatherapist Colleen Quinn explains how to help keep your spirits high with plant medicine
Every new year brings with it a renewed sense of making life changes, hence why so many of us make resolutions we try to stick to. Yes many people deal with the same old friend each winter – a friend commonly known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.
Symptoms of SAD can start in late autumn as the days get shorter and there are less daylight hours. However, they can become more severe during the months of January and February. Symptoms can include persistent low mood, irritability, feelings of despair, guilt or worthlessness and even loss of interest in normal day life. There can also be an unquenchable desire for carbohydrates and a need for more sleep.
Some of the more long term and serious side effects of SAD are social withdrawal, substance abuse, failing mental health and even suicidal thoughts or behaviour.
The specific cause of SAD and the reason why some suffer from it and others don’t remains unknown. But there are some factors that may play a role. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in our serotonin levels, a brain chemical that directly affects our mood and can cause a depressive state.
Melatonin levels can also be disrupted by the seasons. Low melatonin can have a damaging effect on our sleep patterns and mood. Additionally, our natural circadian rhythm, more commonly known as our internal clock, can be disrupted by reduced sunlight causing imbalance and low mood.
The good news is that thanks to the growing awareness of SAD there are more and more tips to help us through the dark months. Taking a vitamin D supplement from October for 90-120 days can give you. boost when there’s little sunlight. Sharing a space with a heat light daily for 30 minutes (ideally in the morning) can also help manage your body’s melatonin and serotonin levels. Try Lumie Bodyclock or the Lumie Arabica Light Box. Both pieces of technology are modern solutions that can help you deal with the lack of daylight and will maximise your exposure to vitamin D.
Making hot yoga part of your exercise routine in the winter months can help warm your body and add calmness to your mind through the restorative, meditative breathing elements.
Be mindful of your alcohol and sugar levels during the winter months as both these substances can be depressive and have a negative effect on our natural body clock and mood.
Aromatherapy can be an extremely helpful aid to relieving the symptoms of the winter depression. Essential Oils are plant based therapeutic oils, which can positively effect your mind and body when passed though the limbic brain by inhalation or into your blood stream via massage.
The added advantage of opting to treat your SAD with Aromatherapy massage is that your mind and body receive the attention of touch. The powerful release of healthy hormones delivered so beautifully from human touch, while also stimulating both the lymphatic and circulatory systems, help to warm up your body and drain excess toxins in your muscles. The physiological rejuvenation and stimulation towards the nervous systems makes Aromatherapy massage the ideal way to treat SAD naturally.
Inhalation as your Aromatherapy delivery method is also a brilliantly effective way to stimulate the brain and limbic system and can be easily done daily at home. Inhalation with a diffusor or simply taking deep inhalations of a blend on a tissue often can be very successful and peaceful.
So which oils are best for SAD? Diffusing citrus oils can bring a sense of sunshine and energy to your home and mood. Blend Lime, Bergamot, Sweet Orange and Grapefruit and diffuse in your living space or office in the morning or early afternoon to brighten your day and keep you motivated through the afternoon slump.
A perfect pre-bed massage or bath Aromatherapy recipe is an aromatic blend of Lavender and Rosemary. The Lavender is known to ease stress, insomnia and depression, while Rosemary is said to work to effectively to release anxiety. Together they tackle low moods with vigorous force. Patchouli essential oil will add balance and stillness to the blend and your mind. Lemongrass is the fourth essential oil in this blend. Although not typically an anti-depressant, Lemongrass is a radiant and uplifting plant oil and aromatically stunning. It rounds off this blend with a sense you will crave though the winter months.
Winter blues can affect any of us, but by looking to nature we can give ourselves the best possible chance to beat them and keep well until spring arrives.
*Essential oils are potent plant material. Never use essential oils undiluted on skin. Always store essential oils in a dark place and well out of reach from children or vulnerable adults. If irritation occurs consult your doctor immediately.
Colleen Quinn is a Clinical Aromatherapist and founder of award winning luxury Aromatherapy brand, Lucy Annabella. She writes about Aromatherapy, health and beauty topics at The Lucy Circle. Colleen holds clinic days at 58 South Molton Street monthly.
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