It’s that time of year again! The holidays are around the corner, there is pumpkin spice EVERYTHING, and the days are getting shorter. It can feel like a good time to be a little more introspective, to pick up a good book or to watch all of those Netflix movies you’ve been meaning to catch up on. For many people, it can be a cozy and relaxing time, but for others it can be a time where they are feeling more fatigued or even just a little bit down. If the change of season zaps your energy or starts to make you feel blue, you’ve got the classic symptoms of a seasonal affective disorder, or SAD
It’s an appropriate acronym as the symptoms associated with SAD are
• Social withdrawal
• Weight gain with increased appetite
• Feelings of hopelessness
And it doesn’t just affect people living in northern colder climates. It affects people all over the world.
Why do some people get SAD? Experts aren’t sure, but one theory is that it affects our circadian rhythm: the 24-hour clock that regulates our sleep and wake cycles. When you look at it this way, it’s a completely normal biological response to the changing of the seasons. This is a bit similar to the TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) approach to this phenomenon.
Chinese medicine is based on the principles of Yin and Yang. In very basic terms, you could say that they are opposites of one another; Yin is deep, dark and cold. Yang is outward, bright and warm. And then you have the changing from one into the other. While summer is completely Yang (bright, long days filled with energy), winter is completely Yin (dark, cold days demanding more sleep and rest). Fall is the movement from complete Yang to complete Yin. It’s the in between phase where we are slowly adjusting to the next season. Sounds to me like that shift in the circadian rhythm! But there are things that we can do to ease this transition.
7 tips to help managing the symptoms of SAD
1. Get outside – go for a hike, take a walk at lunchtime, or just get out in your neighborhood and go for a walk. Natural light helps to reset our circadian rhythm and hormonal balances; both are factors in our moods.
2. Eat nourishing grounding foods – like root vegetables and hearty soups and stews.
3. Avoid sugar – I know this isn’t a popular one, especially given the pumpkin spice EVERYTHING. Sugar and anything that converts into sugar in your body is not only detrimental to your brain health, but it lowers your immune system for up to 4 hours after eating it and our gut health is undeniably linked to our emotional health. When your body is functioning well, you will feel better.
4. Stay active – move your body, or even better, exercise outside. Physical activity, especially when done outside gets the body and mind working together to shift any negative mindset. Exercise reduces depression, anxiety, stress, improves your memory and boosts your overall mood. Endorphins are amazing! Moving your body has such an impact on changing your emotional state. Try it!
5. Be grateful – Express appreciation to the people who have given you opportunities and much to be thankful for. When we express appreciation for what we have, it triggers positive endorphins, which makes us feel stronger both emotionally and physically. It’s only possible to experience one emotion at a time, so if we are feeling gratitude, it’s impossible to feel sad.
6. Herbal teas – I love having relaxing herbal teas like lemon balm**. Lemon balm is memory enhancing and anti-anxiety. It’s an anti-oxidant which means it can help fight against inflammation, infection and disease. It may cause drowsiness so you may want to hold off on your Lemon Balm tea until the evening, and set yourself up for a better nights sleep.
7. Acupuncture – I hope you were expecting that one ☺ Acupuncture releases endorphins in the body. It’s like exercise, without the sweat. Also, one of the main functions of acupuncture is to get the body into a state of rest and relaxation, which will help with the transition from the full bright (yang) energy of summer, to the gentle (yin) rhythm of fall and winter.
So although it may at times feel unbearable, these are things that can help!
“When all the world appears to be in a tumult, and nature itself is feeling the assault of climate change, the seasons retain their essential rhythm. Yes, fall gives us a premonition of winter, but then, winter, will be forced to relent, once again, to the new beginnings of soft greens, longer light, and the sweet air of spring.” — Madeleine M. Kunin
*If you are suffering from major depressive disorder and/or experiencing suicidal thoughts, please seek medical attention.
**Talk to your doctor before using herbal tea for depression, as drug interactions may occur.
I’m an acupuncurist in the Bay Area.
My mission is to help you bring your body into balance so that you can focus on being the best, most loving version of yourself.