The problem: the winter blues.
Seasonal Affective Disorder – or SAD – is a debilitating seasonal depression that comes with alarming regularity for those who are prone to it.
‘Affective’ is the psychiatric term for our emotional responses, and these get hijacked over the winter months by the lack of light hitting our retina. It prevents the cascade of neurotransmitters that otherwise keep us in a balanced and engaged mood.
Depression is the outcome – a biological phenomenon that can be as overwhelming as a major injury or disease.
This condition appears to be independent of both external events and internal strength. It is simply symptomatic of an imbalanced biological clock that responds inappropriately whenever light levels are low.
What causes SAD?
Within the eye, there is a class of retinal cells that respond to light intensity by sending signals directly to the limbic system, home to much of our emotional content in the brain. Without these signals, the emotional content of the limbic system is allowed to run unchecked by the calming influence of the light-induced neurotransmitters.
This is greatly aggravated by stress, which makes us more sensitive to feelings of fear and anxiety, decreases our energy levels, inhibits our cognitive function and produces masses of steroid hormones which inhibit the functionality of serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline.
The ‘fight or flight’ branch of our nervous system also filters our thoughts through the lens of despair and on all levels our ability to engage normally becomes completely compromised.
How can Vedic meditation help?
If we can increase our resistance to stress in the run-up to winter, and then through the low light period itself, then we will go a long way to limiting SAD.
Vedic meditation offsets the aggravating effects of stress by not only calming down the amygdala, the cause of our stress response, but by also bringing balance to the nervous system and activating the vagus nerve.
The result is a more natural level of parasympathetic tone in our central nervous system that prevents our thoughts from becoming irrationally negative.
In addition, we avoid the rush of steroid hormones that otherwise cause a significant disturbance of our hormonal balance. Also, when we meditate, our optic nerve becomes much stronger, and our retinal cells become much more sensitive, meaning we are likely to squeeze more neurochemical juice out of the available light signals.
More importantly, meditation awakens the memory of our most natural production of all hormones and neurotransmitters, including melatonin, and works deeply to reset every system in the mind or body so that every aspect of our physical and mental wellbeing moves towards optimal functionality.
As a result, when we meditate, we have our own internal sunshine and have less need for external input.