Change of season and/or the holidays got you feeling less like yourself? You’re not alone. According to Psychology Today, holiday stress ramps up tenfold when you have anxiety — and more than 40 million U.S. adults are affected. Not to mention that there are about 3 million cases of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) reported each year. Get the facts on SAD below (and find out why it also happens in spring/summer) and learn the yoga poses that can help in this guest post co-written by Beth Shaw, founder of YogaFit, and yoga expert Amanda Frame.
Yoga and Seasonal Depression
Seasonal change is often seen as a time to renew and rejuvenate; however, for some, this may bring about recurrent depression or anxiety that is unwelcome. SAD is defined as recurrent symptoms of anxiety or depression that occur at the same time each year. Most SAD cases are related to fall and winter seasons; however, one in 10 people will have symptoms in spring and summer.
SAD (Fall/Winter) Symptoms
- Appetite changes, with increased cravings for carbohydrates
- Weight gain
- Feelings of fatigue
- Lack of interest in activity
Reverse SAD (Spring/Summer) Symptoms
- Poor appetite, disinterest in eating
- Weight loss
- Agitation and anxiety
Mind-Body Techniques to Combat SAD
The good news is that a yoga practice can help fight these symptoms no matter your seasonal cycle. The source of this seasonal disturbance is a disruption of our circadian rhythm that changes the levels of serotonin and melatonin in our bodies. Traditional therapy includes medication, light therapy, and psychotherapy.
There are mind-body techniques that you can do as well to battle these seasonal blues:
- Guided imagery
- Music or art therapy
Yoga Poses to Help or Reverse SAD
Yoga poses help release tension and stress from the body by increasing serotonin and decreasing monoamine oxidase levels (MAO). Yoga does take longer than pharmaceuticals for initial improvement; however, the effect of a long-term yoga practice decreases the rate of recurrence. Studies on mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) — which include yoga — found that hatha yoga lowers feeling of anxiety and depression. MSBR shifts the activation of the prefrontal cortex, from the right lobe to the left, and this change is associated with improved feelings of well-being. This change appears to be the greatest in experienced practitioners. While a general yoga practice will help you with both anxiety and depression, you can also pick specific poses that address each challenge. Of course, if you believe you’re suffering from SAD, it’s always wise to consult a doctor or mental health professional.
1. Standing Back Bend*
Move slowly. Firm your glutes and place your hands or fists on the bony points alongside your spine. Push your hips forward and lift your chest to the sky.
From a kneeling position, place your hands or fists on the bony points alongside your spine. Firm your glutes. Push your hips forward and lift your chest to the sky. Lift out of your lower back, drawing your elbows back to expand your chest. Look up toward the sky without dropping your head back. As you get out of the pose, go into Child’s Pose (which is described below), and rest.
3. Child’s Pose
From all fours, sink hips back toward the heels and lower the body toward the thighs. Reach arms out in front of you. There are options to include resting arms along the side of the body or supporting the head by stacking your fists. See our video of how to do Child’s Pose here.
4. Sun Salutation
Begin in Mountain pose – standing with feet shoulder-width apart. From Mountain, inhale and sweep your arms up. Exhaling, bend your knees and Swan Dive into Forward Fold. Inhaling, step your right foot back into a lunge, left knee over ankle. Exhaling, step your left foot back into downward facing dog. Inhale into Plank, keeping your core strong and your back straight.
Shift forward onto your toes, exhale into Crocodile, lowering your shoulders to align with your elbows, hips, and heels. Inhaling, pull forward from the core, come on to the tops of your feet for Upward Facing Dog. Exhale into Downward Facing Dog. Inhaling, step your right foot forward into Lunge. Exhaling, step your left foot forward into Forward Fold. Inhaling and bending your knees, circle-sweep your arms up into Mountain. Exhaling, sit back into Chair. Repeat the sequence on the other side. See our video of how to do Sun Salutation here.
Do you notice that your mood changes with the seasons? Has yoga helped? —Jenn
*People with lower back issues or injuries should be cautious. Use chest expansion from the knees, if necessary. If your neck fatigues, look forward and tuck your chin slightly. For sensitive knees or another knee issue, use padding.