In Florida, most of us don’t have the “winter blues” like they do up north. That doesn’t mean that we don’t get them, or that we don’t hear about them. But many Floridians might be surprised to find out that the “winter blues” are an actual, diagnosable, concern. They are actually called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and modern science has linked this type of depression to a lack of light. During the fall, the day starts getting shorter until at the autumn equinox the day and night are, roughly, the same length. However during the winter the nights take over and the days are much shorter. This causes as many as 20% of the population to experience seasonal depression. This condition is often misdiagnosed, but is experienced by men, women, children, and pets.
Typically symptoms will begin around late fall/early winter and will not ease until around spring. Of course, the Holiday stress doesn’t help, but family gatherings (when not stressful) can be a beautiful way to lift your spirits this time of year. Symptoms include; feeling depressed most of the time, feeling hopeless or unworthy, low energy levels, losing interest in things you previously enjoyed, changes to your appetite (particularly cravings for carbohydrates), weight gain, feeling sluggish or easily agitated, hypersensitivity to rejection, oversleeping, and irritability. Many of these symptoms can be traced to the changes in Serotonin and Melatonin levels that happen naturally this time of year, but overall, the exact cause is a mystery. Most typical treatments include light therapy and prescription drugs.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), experiencing SAD is a natural occurrence because human beings are drawn to nature and nature affects us all. In TCM, everything has a yin (feminine, passive, coolness, darkness, nourishment, negative) and a yang (masculinity, activity, warmth, brightness, disbursing, positive). Yin and yang are opposing forces that complement each other, together they form a complete whole. Autumn begins the yin cycle in the year, and people who have a natural inclination to yin will feel all of the yin nature in a more pronounced way. This is also the time of year associated with the kidneys, which are the root of our Qi (vital energy). This time of year we will naturally crave foods that provide a quick burst of energy and are high in calories (carbohydrates and sweets). Stress (physical, mental, and emotional alike), lack of sleep, and poor nutrition will quickly deplete the body’s energy reserves and leave us open to depression and illness.
The TCM approach to SAD starts with balance. Making sure to take the body’s natural inclinations into account, finding a balance with a combination of proper diet, exercise, home life, and spirituality are key. This said, acupuncture has been known to have great results with all kinds of depression. Herbs, massage, and either Tai Chi or Qigong are also extremely useful. The most effective TCM recommendations, however, are to follow nature’s example. In the fall and winter, be active but careful not to overexert yourself. Be outside whenever you can, even just a 10 minute walk around noon will help you get more sun and revitalize your body in the middle of the day. Make sure you are getting the right amount of sleep, and eating healthy. Nature shows us that the winter is for reserving your energy for the abundance of growth in the spring. Don’t be overly hard on yourself, if you feel the need to take things easy, do. Spend time reflecting and relaxing. Enjoy your family get-togethers, but don’t ignore your need to spend time alone. Balance is key.
Alternative Mental Health – Natural Treatment for Depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder: http://www.alternativementalhealth.com/natural-treatment-for-depression-and-seasonal-affective-disorder/
Many Lives Chinese Medicine- Seasonal Affective Disorder from a Traditional Chinese Medicine Perspective: http://manylivescm.com/seasonal-affective-disorder-from-a-traditional-chinese-medicine-perspective/
Mayo Clinic – Seasonal Affective Disorder: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/basics/definition/con-20021047