It’s that time of the year again: days are getting shorter, leaves are changing color, the holidays are right around the corner, pumpkin spice everything…What’s not to love about this season! Along with all the joys of fall comes one giant pitfall. SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder. For many years, I struggled with depression this time of year. I couldn’t figure out why, seemingly out of nowhere, I would feel so down in the dumps. My standard mode of operation of jumping out of bed and trying to jam a million things into the day switches to struggling to get out of bed and unable to find the motivation to do anything. Along with that comes the social withdrawal and sad, gloomy mood. With my own patients, I’ve seen an increase in complaints about depression and fatigue in the last couple months as well. Something is definitely in the air. Yay for Fall! Can you tell this is my favorite time of the year 😉
It wasn’t until I began to study Chinese Medicine that I realized what was happening each Autumn. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a completely normal, and biological, response to the changing of the seasons when looked at it from a Chinese medicine perspective. Chinese medicine is rooted in the Taoist concept of Yin and Yang. Yin is cool, dark, reclusive, the shady side of a mountain. Yang is bright, active, warm, the sunny side of the mountain. The moon is Yin, the Sun is Yang. Summer is full Yang, and Winter is the utmost Yin. When Yang begins to turn to Yin (summer–>fall–>winter), so does the brightness of summer turn into the darkness of winter. This descent into Yin comes with depression: lack of energy, withdrawal, sadness. On the flip side, when Yin ascends into Yang, you get a burst of excitement and happiness: decreased need for sleep, motivation to complete and/or begin projects, desire and energy to go out into the world.
Upon hearing this explanation, it made complete sense. It makes the prospect of each fall season a lot less daunting. Here are some of the tools from my arsenal to help combat Seasonal Affective Disorder:
Get outside! Fresh air and sunlight are in shorter supply, but this is crucial to keeping you from getting too down.
Eat nourishing, grounding foods like soups, stews, and slow cooked meats.
Avoid sugar. The sharp rise and crash in blood sugar following consumption of sugary foods and drinks directly contributes to anxiety and depression.
Changing your mindset. If you have noticed that you suffer from depression this time of year, it’s comforting to know that it is only temporary and that it is normal, biological response to the shifting of the seasons.
Stay active. Although it is tempting to cut back on exercise (or even stop altogether) now that we are well out of swimsuit weather, it’s important to keep moving. The intensity of your workouts should decrease in the cooler months. Instead, incorporate low intensity workouts into your everyday, such as: long walks, bike rides, or yard work.
One of my favorite herbs this time of year is the Albizia flower from the Mimosa tree. In the Chinese material medica, this herb, known as He Huan Hua, is coined the “happiness flower”. It’s found in the section of Calm the Spirit herbs. Commonly brewed as a tea or taken as a tincture, this beautiful herb has a powerful function to lift the spirit. The Mimosa tree blooms throughout the summer, a colorful burst of magenta flowers. I’ve harvested this flower the last three summers to make into a tincture. Coincidentally, the tincture needs to sit for about two months before use. Just in time for Fall!
*If you are suffering from major depressive disorder and/or experiencing suicidal thoughts, please seek medical attention.
Disclosure: If you are on prescription medications, please check with your healthcare provider for herb-drug interactions prior to ingesting any herbs.
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