Fay-Meling von Moltke Pao, DAc, BHSc, Hon.BA.
Yellow Emperor's Classic of Medicine it is said, "People and nature
are inseparable. In nature the cyclical movement of the heavenly bodies
produces atmospheric influences that exert control over the rhythms of
the seasons and is responsible for change to the myriad living and
nonliving things…warmth of the spring gives rise to birth, the fire of
the summer fuels rapid growth and development, the coolness of autumn
matures all and provides harvest, and the coldness of winter forces
inactivity and storing".
As fall turns
into winter, many people are prone to a mild form of depression that
seems to lift in the warmer months of spring. Along with a depressed
mood, one can experience irritability, headaches, extreme fatigue and
lethargy, increased appetite, carbohydrate cravings, an inability to
concentrate, and decreased libido. 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 arising from the limited exposure to sunlight
in the winter are involved. Other factors that may contribute to SAD
include genetics, hormones, and stress.
Conventional western treatment
methods of treating seasonal affective disorder in conventional western
medicine involve light therapy. Light therapy is based on the theory
that increasing exposure to bright lights will increase the levels of
melatonin. For some cases, antidepressants are also prescribed. Most of
these drugs work by increasing the actions and effects of the chemical
stimulants noradrenaline and serotonin in the body. While all these
treatments can control depression, they do not address the underlying
causes associated with it. Furthermore, antidepressants can produce side
effects such as
Anxiety, palpitations, insomnia, high blood pressure,
reduced libido, excessive sweating and rash.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
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 is positive in sign and relates to masculinity,
activity, warmth, and brightness. It also refers to qualities such as
increasing, lifting and dispersing. Yin on the other hand, is negative
in sign and relates to femininity, nourishment, passiveness, cold, and
darkness. Yin also refers to the decreasing, descending and contracting
aspects of nature.
In terms of
the seasons, the start of the yin cycle begins in autumn when the amount
of daylight gradually decreases, and continues until the spring equinox
when the days and nights are of the same duration. Since the autumn
months mark the beginning of the yin cycle, there is a tendency towards
isolation, sadness, and grieving. For those people whose constitution
(due to gender, genetics, environment, and lifestyle) is more yin in
nature, these feelings may be even more pronounced. Hormonal changes in
both men and women can influence mood. Based on TCM, the winter months
are associated with the Kidney system, the root of our vital Qi
(energy). It is natural to crave those foods that provide a quick source
of energy and that are high in calories since extra energy can be stored
as fat in the body to help keep the body warm. Since our body must
already use a lot of energy in the winter to fend off the wind and cold,
it is also natural to feel more lethargic and emotionally and physically
sensitive to our surroundings at this time. Undue physical, mental, or
emotional stress, a lack of sleep, and poor nutrition will only deplete
the body's energy further and increase the chances of experiencing not
only depressed mood, but depressed immunity.
Chinese Medicine is an ancient art and science based on over three
thousand years of clinical experience that incorporates several
modalities such as acupuncture, herbal medicine, tuina (Chinese massage
therapy), exercise (tai chi and qigong), and diet therapy to regulate
energy flow and restore balance in the body. In TCM, energetic
imbalances are closely associated with chemical, mental, emotional, and
physical disturbances within the body. The bioelectric properties of
acupuncture points and meridians have been substantiated in several
experiments. While research in TCM continues to grow exponentially,
acupuncture itself, has been accepted by the World Health Organization
as a useful therapy for many conditions. Although it is already well
known for its effects on pain control, acupuncture is also helpful in
treating several neurological, immunological, and hormonal disorders and
preliminary studies have given promising results for its treatment of
depression. From a western medical perspective, these studies have shown
that acupuncture releases serotonin and noradrenaline-norepinephrine in
animals, common stimulants used in the treatment of depressive
disorders. As well, recent studies suggest that electro-acupuncture
maybe a viable alternative to the use of tricyclic antidepressants. The
benefit of this is that acupuncture carries no extra side effects.
From a TCM
perspective, the body must be viewed as a whole that is part of a
greater whole. Each person is unique and therefore, specific signs and
symptoms relating to a person's physical, mental and emotional state as
well as their lifestyle, diet, and environment must be taken into
account. Since the diagnosis and treatment are holistic in nature, it is
possible to discover the underlying cause as well as any contributing
factors of the condition. For a condition such as seasonal affective
disorder, Traditional Chinese medicine considers it essential to look at
the whole body and its surrounding environment and treat according to
the particular pattern (excess/deficient, hot/cold, wet/dry, etc.)
associated with the disorder. An imbalance of either yin or yang
qualities eventually leads to illness and must therefore be treated
accordingly so that the body's innate ability to heal itself on all
levels is restored.
What to do about SAD
and other modalities of TCM, can indeed be helpful for those who suffer
from seasonal depression as they can bring the body to a more balanced
state. In certain conditions, medication and psychotherapy may be
necessary, and the advice of a physician should be heeded. The following
are ways in which you can achieve a more harmonious state of existence
by following the wisdom of the changing seasons:
fall and winter months, it is important to keep physically active but
not to overstrain oneself. Outdoor activities such as skating, skiing or
snowshoeing or even indoor stretches and exercises such as swimming,
yoga, or tai qi, are excellent ways to keep a healthy mind and body.
Special care should be taken to ensure that one has proper nourishment,
rest and a comfortable living environment. At this time, there is a
tendency to reflect inwardly and conserve energy, in order to prepare
for the spring when energy is once again full and abundant. Allow your
self to rest more and spend time in solitude to consider the past,
present, and future. Although the tendency to become more inactive and
isolated is reflective of the retracting nature of winter, it is also
important to communicate openly with those close to you so that you can
nourish your personal relationships and maintain a healthy and positive
outlook on life. By addressing your physical and mental needs in the
winter, you can prevent other ailments from occurring in the future. And
by appreciating the natural changes in the seasons and within ourselves,
you naturally adopt a more healthy and balanced lifestyle in mind, body,
For more about
the author, please go to the following link:
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