Feeling a little low in mood, unmotivated, and sad during the winter months? You may have the winter blues also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Western medicine defines SAD as a mood disorder experienced by people with normal mental health throughout the year who feel depressed at the same time each year, especially in winter.
In Chinese medicine, depression is a sign of disharmony or imbalance of Qi. This is the energetic flow that circulates within the body and connects each organ to nourish and harmonise the body, mind and soul. I often find in clinical practice that lifestyle and diet may contribute to the onset of SAD.
In winter we either tend to be more sedentary and indulge in richer and heavier foods that prevent the smooth flow of Qi and blood. OR the opposite occurs - where we still perform the same hard core activities as we did in the summer and don't nourish and rest our bodies enough. Winter is the time for balance. A balance between yin and yang, rest and activities and nourishing our body with warm slow cooked foods to rejuvenate and regenerate our energy for the prelude of spring.
Sometimes, a little TCM treatment is all you need to help your get through the winter blues. (However, if a constant depressive state of mind lingers after following this winter health advice please consult your health care professional).
The combination of acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicines and simple lifestyle and diet changes are a great way to help lift those low moods. Here are three tips that I recommend to help manage SAD in addition to TCM treatments.
Exercise - Studies have found that brisk walking for 35 minutes a day 5 times a week or 60 minutes a day, 3 times a week had a significant impact on mild to moderate depression symptoms. Evidence shows that exercising enhances the release of endorphins and stimulates the neurotransmitter nor-epinephrine. Endorphin and nor-epinephrine are known as 'naturally produced happy hormones' that help lift and improve our mood. In addition, regular exercise offers other health benefits such as lowering blood pressure and boosting self-esteem. In Chinese medicine, regular exercise helps the Qi to flow, helping your body to shift those low moods away. So put on your walking shoes and start walking those winter blues away.
Sunshine - bundle up, go out and explore. When the sun is shining, take every opportunity to get out - especially when you work in an office. Even just 10-15 minutes in the sun will lift your mood. If you are lucky enough to have a window in your office, sit close to it to get an extra dose of sunshine. If you are working from home, open up your blinds and curtains to let the sun rays in and take short breaks to enjoy the sun.
The worse thing about winter is being stuck indoors. Granted there will be days when it is absolutely hideous outside and all you want to do is be indoors, reading a good book, rugged up by the heater. However, whenever you can, encourage yourself to go out. Explore your neighbourhood, or even make a trip to the ski slopes and enjoy what nature has to offer. One of my favourite places to visit is Lake Mountain, not far from Melbourne to do some cross country skiing. There is something quite spectacular and magical about a winter landscape.
Diet - Nutritious, well balanced, cooked, warm meals. In Chinese medicine, we always advocate that 'food is medicine'. A well balanced diet consisting of protein, vegetables, fruit and grains should be the first port of call towards the health of a person. I often advise my clients to eat warm cooked food and to minimise the amount of salad, cold and raw food in their diet. As the weather is cold, the body naturally desires warmer food such as slow cooked stews, bone broths, roasted vegetables and soups. In addition, adding warming spices such as ginger, cinnamon, cloves, turmeric and black pepper to cooking helps enhance the warming properties of the food. These warming foods are a great way to nourish Qi and blood. When your Qi and blood are healthy and well looked after, it will help manage and minimise those winter blues.