Seasonal affective disorder or SAD affects over 10 million Americans annually when long, sunny summer days dwindle into cold, dark winters. Those living furthest from the equator are most affected. Imagine Alaska’s 30 days of night! In coming weeks, the hours of daylight will grow less and less, until our hemisphere leans so far from the sun that we experience the darkest day of the year-the Winter Solstice (December 21st this year).

Western medicine often sites lack of exposure to sunlight as the root cause of SAD, the symptoms of which include extreme lethargy, headaches, depression, negative thoughts, difficulty concentrating, increased appetite, weight gain, decreased libido, and increased desire to be alone. Light therapy is often used as a treatment for such symptoms to increase melatonin and vitamin D levels. In some cases, antidepressant medications are prescribed. Other factors that may contribute to SAD include genetics, hormones, and/or stress.

In Classical Chinese Medicine, yin and yang are used to symbolically represent opposites that we see and experiences in natural cycles of the environment. The first writings and observations of the yin/yang principle are illustrated by the sight of a hill upon which sunlight falls. The yang side of the hill is struck by the sun, while the yin side remains shaded. The yin is inextricably linked to the yang, and vice versa. One requires the other to give it definition. Yang characteristics are masculine, active, warm, and bright. Yang’s are characteristics of summer. Yin’s characteristics are feminine, passive, nourishing, cold, and dark in nature. Yin’s are characteristics of the winter months.

Yielding to Yin
The cold and darkness of winter provide a space for all of nature to rest, look inward, and store. It’s a time when our ancestors would retreat to caves to keep warm, sleep long hours, and eat hardy root vegetables and salted meats.

Yielding to yin in modern times can be difficult. Rather than slowing, the pace of our daily routine increases to breakneck speed with the holiday season. Meanwhile, the cold air continues to blow and our bodies crave rest and energy-packed foods, like carbohydrates, to fend off illness. Excess physical, mental, or emotional stress during winter (especially for people who are more yin in constitution due to gender, genetics, environment, and lifestyle) can lead to depressed moods and a depressed immune system.

Treating SAD from a Classical Chinese Medicine Perspective
From a CCM perspective, it is important to respect the Yin of winter and to treat any imbalance resulting from its overabundance by focusing key elements, organs, emotions, and foods that maintain balance during wintertime.

Water is the element of winter. Water represents Qi energy in its “seed” state. That is, water is like a seed filled with potential energy that must be channeled to good use. When treating SAD, this principle is applied to the idea that slowing down to store seeds of energy in winter is natural. However, storing should not inhibit free-flow. Acupuncture it an excellent option for treating SAD with CCM. It is most effective when performed two times a week beginning in the fall to avoid blockages all together. However, treatment can begin at any time to stimulate yang energies and decrease SAD symptoms.

The Kidneys and their paired organ the Urinary Bladder are the organs of winter. Not only are they physiologically connected to the body’s processing of Winter Water, they also house the emotion of fear and Zhi energy or the will. When the kidneys are weak, an inordinate lack of willpower or increased anxiety/fear result. Acupuncture stimulates points along meridians that restore flow of Qi to the kidneys, while Chinese Herbs, like mustard flower essences, rejuvenate them.

Helpful Practices for Stimulating Yang:

  • Exercise regularly. Morning walks are excellent way enhance your mood. Try walking 20 minutes at a brisk pace each morning to increase the flow of endorphins and so that have access to sunshine time each day.
  • Plan outdoor activities on the weekends. Though most of us nine-to-fivers must spend the majority of daylight hours indoors in winter, we still have the weekends! Make a plan to bundle up and fly a kite, go skiing, hiking, window shopping, or dare to practice yoga in the park on a winter’s day.
  • Avoid overeating. Cravings for carbs hit hard in the winter, but weight gain only adds to the tensions of Seasonal Affective Disorder. If you do have a craving, go for whole grain pastas, breads, and oatmeal. Eat lots of protein like roasted nuts or lean meats and baked root vegetables such as yams and baked potatoes
  • Sleep! It is okay submit a bit to that lazy feeling. Your body’s clock is tied to the rising and setting of the sun. Try sleeping earlier and waking with the sun to maximize winter daylight.
  • Wanting more time to yourself is typical in winter but always remember to keep the warmth of loved ones around you. Take time to keep in touch, and share meals with family and friends.

At Integrative Med Solutions, applications of Classical Chinese Medical for Seasonal Affective Disorder may include talk consultations, nutritional counseling, botanical medicine, supplementation, and/or acupuncture, among other treatments. Unique modalities are designed for each individual with respect for patients’ mental, physical, and emotional constitution.

It is important to remember that treatment discussed here often prove effective but are never a substitute for psychological or psychiatric treatments. Please feel free to contact our office to arrange a consultation or to inquire how we may help you with symptoms relating to Seasonal Affective Disorder.

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