Friday, October 23, 2015

Preventing Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) with Acupuncture and Natural Medicine

For many people, Fall is a season of change: the weather is cooling, kids go back to school, the leaves are changing color. For some people, it is also a time for a shift in mood. Around October or November, especially in Northern locations, many people experience a rise in depression, irritability or feelings of being stuck. The term for this is Seasonal Affective Disorder, or (appropriately named) S.A.D.

Because we typically have less sun exposure in the Fall and Winter than in the Spring and Summer, our ability to make Vitamin D also declines and we get depressed. This is why I first recommend supplementing with Vitamin D3 (D2 is significantly less bio-available). I recommend supplementing from October until about April when the sun starts to be more prevalent again. You need more Vitamin D if you live in darker climates and less if you live in sunnier ones. Speak to your doctor about getting the correct dosage for you. For most adults in the Winter, 3000-5000 IU daily is common, especially if you tend toward seasonal depression.

From a Chinese medicine perspective, Fall and Winter are Yin seasons: cooler and darker, when the energy is gathering and moving inward. Fall is associated with the Lung, whose associated emotion is Grief/Sadness. The combination of Sadness being the ruling emotion and the cooler weather causing a slowing of Qi, or energy, flow (which can stagnate causing irritability), many people experience a lower mood during this time. To read more about the energy shift in Fall, click on one of my earlier posts, Fall Thoughts.

The key is to keep your Qi flowing, while simultaneously acknowledging the season's natural movement.

Exercise is important but it needs to be appropriate. Moderate exercise that makes you feel energized is what you are looking for. If you feel depleted after exercise it typically means you need to do less, sleep more, and/or eat better foods. You may also need to choose an easier, gentler form of exercise. However, if you tend to feel sluggish during the winter time (which is common with S.A.D.), you may need a more vigorous form of exercise. There is not one type of exercise that will be right for all people this time of year, so you need to experiment with what makes you feel best.

During colder months it is also important to eat foods that will warm the body, avoiding cold, raw or frozen foods and beverages. During the Fall, you should be eating fewer salads and more sauteed, steamed or stir fried foods. Lighter, broth based soups like miso or bone broths, or light pureed soups, like butternut squash or pumpkin are great to add to your diet this time of year. They start to build warmth while still honoring the fact that we are not in hibernation yet. You will want to save the heavier soups and stews (lentil soup, chili, beef stew) for Winter when we need the deeper warming of a slow cooked meal to battle the cold and snow of outside.

Acupuncture can be a great support during this time of year. It helps keep your Qi moving and supports your overall health. Regular acupuncture can help improve your mood and keep you physically and emotionally healthy through the Fall and Winter seasons.

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