Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder
It’s normal to feel a little down in the dumps as the nights become longer and the days grow colder. But for some people, the change of the seasons can spell full-blown depression that lasts for months. If this sounds like you, you may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD.
In this article, we look at SAD from the perspective of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). We also discuss how acupuncture and massage could help.
A Chinese Medicine View of the Seasons
The seasons are extremely important in TCM. They represent the constant cycle of yin and yang which can be seen not only in nature, but also inside the human body. Each season is associated with an element, a pair of organs, and an emotion. All of these factors come together to give each season its own distinctive character which can be summarized as follows:
Spring is associated with the wood element and it represents birth, growth, and creativity. The organs linked with spring are the Liver and Gallbladder which use the forceful energy of wood to circulate qi and blood around the body. The emotion of spring is anger, but rather than being a negative emotion, this can be seen as supporting positive growth and change.
The energy of spring is upward and outward, like buds unfolding on a tree or new shoots pushing their way through the earth. Therefore, spring is a great time of year to start new projects or make plans for the future.
Summer is associated with fire and represents love, relationships, and communication. The organs linked with this season are the Heart and Small Intestine. They play a vital role within the body when it comes to our spirit and emotions. The main emotion associated with this season is joy. Just imagine the happiness you might feel sitting around a campfire with close friends, and you can picture the energy of summer.
Summer represents the peak of yang in TCM and it is the best time to socialize and enjoy being outdoors. It is normal to feel more positive and energetic at this time of the year.
In TCM, there is an extra season known as late summer. This time is associated with the earth element and the harvest. Earth governs our digestive organs, the Stomach and Spleen, and late summer is all about nourishment. Crops turn to gold in the fields and fruit ripens on the trees, providing enough food for everyone.
The emotion associated with this late summer is sympathy or worry. It is the ideal season to think about helping the less fortunate by sharing your harvest with the whole community.
Fall is associated with the metal element. It is the season of endings and beginnings, as trees shed their leaves which enrich the soil ready for the following year. The organs are the Lungs and Large Intestine, responsible for taking in fresh air and getting rid of waste. Finally, the emotion of fall is grief, letting go of the past to make way for the new.
The energy of the fall is downward and inward as yin begins to take over from yang. This is the ideal time of year to declutter your life and remove anything that no longer serves you. It is also a great time to turn your own energy inward with practices such as meditation, yoga, or tai chi.
Winter is the most yin time of the year. It is associated with the water element, which is characterized by stillness and movement. Even in the middle of winter, roots and insects are waking up under the soil, ready to burst forth again in spring.
The organs associated with winter are the Kidneys and Bladder, and the emotion is fear. This season is for quiet reflection and preparing for the spring. It is advisable to rest as much as possible during the winter months to preserve your energy and keep disease at bay.
Seasonal Affective Disorder in Chinese Medicine
According to ancient TCM texts such as the Su Wen, we should observe the changing seasons and adjust our lifestyles to match. Living in harmony with nature should allow us to be happy and healthy the whole year round. However, if this natural flow is ignored, physical and emotional symptoms can quickly occur.
Some people move through each season easily, but for others it can be a much more difficult process. Most people who suffer from SAD do so in the fall and winter, a time when yin energy increases, nights become longer, and the weather takes a turn for the worse.
However, in some rare cases, people suffer from SAD in the summer, and this is important from a diagnostic point of view. If a person struggles more in the winter or fall, this could indicate an imbalance in their Kidneys or Lungs. But if someone is more prone to SAD in summer, a Heart imbalance could be to blame.
Another possible cause of SAD according to Chinese medicine is a general lack of yang energy. This means that once the seasons become more yin, you may suffer from depression, fatigue, and lack of motivation. You may also find yourself craving unhealthy carbs as your body cries out for extra energy.
Acupuncture for Seasonal Affective Disorder
If you suffer from SAD, acupuncture could help in a number of ways. Firstly, your acupuncturist will need to identify which of your organs may be out of balance. This diagnosis will depend on your symptoms, when they happen, and how long they last. Your medical history, lifestyle, and diet will also be taken into account.
Once your acupuncturist has found which organs need attention, they can begin working to restore a state of balance to your body and mind. If your SAD is worse in the fall and winter, they may work to support your yang energy too. The best time to start doing this is in the summer, when yang is naturally at its peak.
From a scientific viewpoint, acupuncture for SAD may have the following benefits:
· Influencing the central nervous system
· Releasing neurotransmitters including serotonin which has been linked with improved mood
· Releasing endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers and feel-good chemicals
· Reducing sensitivity to stress
· Improving sleep
· Working safely alongside other medication such as antidepressants
Acupuncture can be used alone or alongside other therapies. When treating SAD, acupuncture combines especially well with massage.
Massage for Seasonal Affective Disorder
Like acupuncture, massage can help with SAD in several ways. It helps to relieve stress and anxiety, while aiding relaxation and improving sleep. Massage also improves blood circulation, which could help to boost your energy if the winter makes you feel tired and sluggish.
As well as being incredibly calming, massage can also offer some much-needed human contact at what can be a very bleak time of the year. This alone can be really helpful if your SAD symptoms are getting you down.
Other Tips for Relieving Seasonal Affective Disorder
As well as trying acupuncture and massage for SAD, there are a few other things you can try at home to keep the winter blues at bay.
You might not feel like it, but going outdoors in the daylight is one of the best remedies for SAD. Even if you just take a brisk, 20-minute walk, it is important to get out and about. The best time of day to do this in the morning when the sun is strongest.
Get More Light
Even if you are stuck indoors, you can increase your exposure to sunlight as much as possible. Open all curtains and blinds, and sit near to a window whenever you can. Some people find a lightbox helpful too. These are lamps which are specially designed to help people with SAD by mimicking natural sunlight.
Exercising is a great way to boost your yang energy and feel more positive. If you can exercise outdoors, even better. A jog or bike ride in the daylight may be one of the best ways to boost your mood. However, even if you stay in, doing some yoga, tai chi, or an exercise video could also help.
If you suffer from SAD, you may be craving carbs and sugar. However, these will give you a temporary energy boost and leave you feeling worse than ever when they wear off. Try to stick to foods which provide a slow, steady release of energy throughout the day. These include whole grains, nuts and seeds, lean protein, and vegetables.
It can be easy to become a hermit in the colder months as leaving the house becomes less and less appealing. However, it is vital that you stay connected and make an effort to socialize, even if it’s only over the phone.
If you are really struggling, consider getting professional help for SAD. This could be in the form of counselling or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Your therapist will provide a safe space for you to talk about how you feel, as well as offering coping strategies.
Are you already dreading the winter and thinking of trying acupuncture or massage for SAD? Contact us at 773-878-7330 to learn more about how we could help you.