June 1st officially kicks off the winter months here down under. When we think of winter, respiratory ailments and boosting our immune system are often at the forefront of our. As the days become shorter and nights longer, we naturally move from a more active lifestyle towards dreams of hibernation. This slowing down of energy can sometimes feel similarly to feeling emotionally down. For others, this natural withdrawal can send them spiralling down with depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
Who gets it?
SAD is a condition considered a form of depression. Typically, this is a condition associated in the winter months but also does occur in summer as a result long days and shorts nights affecting the circadian rhythm. People with SAD experience symptoms of depression or mania generally around the same time of the year each year. Individuals with mental health conditions might find their symptoms aggravated with seasonal changes.
Why does it happen?
Both sunlight and darkness triggers hormones in the brain. Though precise triggers are unknown, exposure to sunlight is thought to release the hormone serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is the brain’s happy hormone. Fluctuations in its levels can cause a person to have mood swings between their happiest and their lowest. Melatonin is another hormone regulates our mood and sleep. Levels of melatonin in the brain also fluctuate with the amount of sunlight received thus having a strong link to SAD. Due to this belief, ‘lightboxes’ or happy lights are used during winter in regions of the world with really long winter nights such as in the northern hemisphere.
According to Chinese medicine, the Yin nature of winter slows everything down and directs the energy inward. Most of our lifestyles in current times do not always allow for this change within ourselves. As a result, it is very easy to feel exhausted during this time. Effects of the circadian rhythm slowing down are felt in the body similar to that of being jetlagged. By nourishing and supporting the Yang, a harmonious healthy balance can be restored.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of SAD usually start out mild and gradually worsen as the season progress and starts feeling well again once the season begins to change.
Symptoms of SAD in winter include (Healthdirect, 2018):
- Lack of energy
- Too much sleep
- Hard to wake in the morning
- Constant fatigue
- Overeating and crave carbohydrates
- Weight gain
- Loss of interest in usual activities
Symptoms of SAD in summer include (Healthdirect, 2018):
- Difficulty going to sleep
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Feeling agitated or anxious
What should I do if I have SAD?
Although this is a rare condition in Australia, most Australians report feeling flat and lethargic at certain times of the year. If you have persistent symptoms affecting your every day life, please seek help from a doctor.
Acupuncture and herbs are wonderful ways to bring the Yin and Yang of the body in balance. It is still encouraged of everyone to take responsibility for their personal lifestyle changes. Here are some tips totry at home.
- Yin Tang: located midway between the eyebrows, this is one of the extraordinary points not pertaining to a particular meridian. The third eye is associated with the pineal gland where melatonin is produced. As an acupressure point, some of the benefits include calming, relieving anxiety, improving sleep quality
- LV 3 (Tai Chong): located on top of the foot, at the depression between the big toe and second toe, this is one of the most popularly used acupuncture points to move qi in the body; Liver qi in particular. The Liver channel is the primary channel to address when one is dealing with stress.
- GV 20 (Bai Hui): located at the crown of the head, the name of this point means ‘One Hundred Convergences’. The bones of the skull converge at this point. Connecting with the crown chakra, this is also the meeting place of the 6 Yang channels and Du Mai. Also found to be effective in treating the ‘hundred diseases’ meaning it is powerful point with varying uses. An excellent point for mental health conditions.
- Ren 4: located on the midline, 3/5 below the navel, this point translates as ‘Gate of Origin’. This is an important storage for developmental energy. Stimulation of this point helps to strengthen and nourish the Kidney (Qi, Yi and Yang), which helps improve energy and vitality.
- ST36 (Zu San Li): located at a depression a cm away from the outer edge of the shin, approximately 3 finger widths below the knee cap, translates as the “Three Leg Mile). Being an Earth point on an Earth element channel, this point strongly nourishes Earth energy in the body by nourishing the Spleen and Stomach system. This nourishes the blood and help strength the body and the immune system.
- Get 20 – 30 minutes of walking a day, preferably in the morning or when there is most sunlight. While in a depressed mood, it is important to move much as you can even if it is at a slow pace. This helps the qi or energy to move and circulate creating stimulation for the body.
- Avoid over or under eating. If you are losing weight and have no appetite, have little portions of easily digestible food more frequently. Soups and congee are great options. If you are having emotional eating, learning your triggers and working on addressing those may be helpful. Keeping a mood and food diary helping you navigate through your patterns of emotional eating and finding healthier ways to feed your feelings.
- A hot cup of tea, a warm bath, creative outlets like painting and dancing are some excellent ways to direct anxious energy, unwind and destress.
- Nature is your friend. A study in 2015 researching the brain activity of healthy people walking for 90 minutes either in a natural or urban setting found that with the group of nature walkers, activity in the prefrontal cortex was lower. This is the area that is most active when you have repetitive negative emotions (Harvard Health Publishing, 2008). So if you can, find a bit of nature to connect with every day.
Harvard Health Publishing. Sour mood getting you down? Get back to nature: Research suggests that mood disorders can be lifted by spending more time outdoors. (July, 2008). https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/sour-mood-getting-you-down-get-back-to-nature
Healthdirect. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). (December, 2018). https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/seasonal-affective-disorder
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