Acupuncture for Seasonal Affective Disorder

by Lynn Jaffee, L.Ac.

If this cool fall weather has you thinking of palm trees, sunny beaches, and moving south, you’re not alone!  Everyone feels the effects of fall in one way or another.  However, for some, the move from the bright days of summer to the cool winter weather brings with it a form of depression, called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.

People who suffer from SAD feel fine during the warmer months, but suffer from symptoms such as depression, fatigue, lack of motivation, difficulty concentrating, and lethargy during the late fall and winter.  Over ten million people in the United States suffer from SAD, two-thirds of which are women.  The cause of SAD is unknown, but it is thought by western doctors to be related to a drop in melatonin levels in the brain caused by decreased exposure to sunlight during the winter.  Currently, SAD is treated through the use of light therapy, and in some cases, antidepressants.

From a Chinese medical framework, SAD is related to an imbalance between Yin and Yang.  The theory of Yin and Yang was developed thousands of years ago to describe the relationship between opposing forces in nature.  Yang describes that which is bright, active, moving, warm and transforming.  In contrast, Yin describes those things which are cool, dark, still, and nourishing.  This time of year the seasons are changing from summer, which is a bright and warm Yang time of the year to the colder, darker, and more nourishing Yin winter months.

For some people, the abundance of Yin during the winter becomes overwhelming, giving way to the hallmark symptoms of SAD.  Lethargy, fatigue, and lack of motivation all reflect Yin characteristics.  Like a frozen river, this lack of movement ultimately creates stagnation which manifests as depression and feelings of sadness.

While there is no magic bullet for SAD, incorporating some Yang activities into your life can help.  Remember, Yang is warm, bright, and active.  Try to get outside during the middle of the day if possible, especially on sunny days.  While you may not feel motivated, taking a walk, going to the gym, or cross country skiing are all good ways to stir up the warmth and activity of Yang.  Also, activitiy in the form of change–trying something new–is a way to boost Yang.  Choose activities that warm not only your body, but your heart as well.  Time with friends or a special family event are both moving and warming activities.

Needless to say, Chinese medicine can offer some relief for SAD, too.  Acupuncture, combined with heat therapy and some Yang fortifying foods and/or herbs can be an effective way to get through the winter.

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