Fall is officially here in Michigan. The leaves are not only turning intensely vibrant colors, yet dropping from the trees. Days are becoming shorter as nights grow longer. There’s a crisp chill in the air, as nature prepares for the next cycle of life. As fall transitions into winter, many people are prone to a mild form of depression that is affected by the change of seasons.
Along with a depressed mood, one can experience irritability, headaches, poor sleep habits, fatigue, increased appetite, cravings and an inability to concentrate. These set of symptoms form a condition commonly referred to as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Seasonal affective disorder affects over ten million people in the United States each year, two-thirds of which are female. While the true cause is not known according to western medicine, it is thought that decreased melatonin levels due to limited exposure to sunlight in the fall and winter months contribute to SAD.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, everything has a yin and yang aspect: opposing forces that also complement one another and form part of a greater whole. Yang relates to activity, warmth, and brightness whereas yin relates to nourishment, passiveness, cold, and darkness.
In terms of the seasons, the start of the yin cycle begins in the fall when the amount of daylight gradually decreases. There is a tendency towards isolation, sadness, and grieving. For individuals whose constitution (due to gender, genetics, environment, and lifestyle) is more yin in nature, these feelings may be even more pronounced. In addition, it is natural to experience an increase in appetite and cravings that provide a quick source of energy that can be stored as fat in the body. Our bodies use a lot of energy during this time of year to maintain warmth. It is also normal to feel more lethargic, as well as emotionally and physically sensitive. Stress, a lack of sleep, and poor nutrition can deplete the body’s energy sources further and increase the chances of experiencing not only depressed mood, but decreased immunity.
Acupuncture and other modalities of TCM can be helpful for those who experience seasonal depression as they can bring the body to a more balanced state. In TCM, energetic imbalances are closely associated with chemical, mental, emotional, and physical manifestations in the body. Treatments can address the associated symptoms of SAD by decreasing stress and inflammation, improving circulation, regulating body temperature, improving sleep quality and regulating mood.
The following are some suggestions to help you manage seasonal ups and downs:
- Keep physically active. It’s important to be mindful of not overstraining oneself during this yin time of year. Light cardio, walking, gentle stretching and yoga are great options.
- Take a walk! Getting outdoors and connecting with nature and the season helps be in the present and embrace the cycle of change.
- Allow time for rest and reflection. Whether taking time out to read, meditate or just doing nothing, it’s important to foster a sense of quiet and calm to recharge our batteries. Guilt free!
- Establish healthy sleep habits. Preparing for bed as a ritual to be enjoyed by unplugging from electronics, going to bed at the same time nightly and unwinding from the day’s events can support healthy cortisol levels and balanced hormones for improved mood.
- Essential oils are wonderful self-care for seasonal depression! Rosemary, black spruce and/or frankincense essential oils used in a diffusor throughout the day help calm the central nervous system, promote improved memory, focus and concentration and a stabilized mood.
- Eating according to the season is a natural way to help balance physical and emotional well-being. Warming and pungent foods and spices that help increase circulation and metabolism are great choices during the fall. Preparing meals with earthy spices, root vegetables, squashes, apples, pears, grains, legumes and lean animal protein reflect the bounty of harvest while feeding our bodies with what’s in season.
- Create connection. Although the tendency to become more inactive and isolated is reflective of this time of year, it’s also important to communicate with those close to you so that you can nourish your personal relationships and maintain a healthy and positive outlook on life.
There’s no separation between nature and us. We are a reflection of the seasons by embodying the same relationships within that occur in nature.
By finding value in these seasonal changes and within ourselves, we can cultivate a more balance and healthy lifestyle that supports body, mind and spirit