Marjie: What a brutal winter. I don't know how you're coping, but I've been in a mid-winter funk. My energy is low, I'm grumpy, and I complain all the time. My family and friends aren't exactly charmed by this behavior and I'm sick of it too. I want my sunny ripe peach self back! Luckily, Dana Hoffman - a wise and wonderful Chicago acupuncturist and healer - is here to give us the lowdown on how to deal with S.A.D. She is one of my first guest bloggers and it's already cheering me up to have her here. Now I'm turning things over to Dana while I go pop some vitamin D.
Long before I was an acupuncturist, in Woody Allen's 1990 film, 'Alice,' Mia Farrow's character goes to the Chinese acupuncturist with a nagging backache. Dr. Yang points at Alice's aching back and says, "Problem not here, problem is (now pointing at her head) HERE." and then proceeds to give her Chinese herbs that when consumed make Alice invisible so she can get in some "me" time.
But back to that head. And what's connected to it. This time of year, I see several patients a day coming in and NOTHING is going right for them. They are unable to concentrate, unable to sleep, feel upside-down, angry, and confused. It's because they have Seasonal Affective Disorder, or, as we like to say in my business, their liver qi is backed up like the Kennedy at rush hour.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or S.A.D., is a condition caused by minimal winter daylight and overcast days. It can manifest as:
- depression, moodiness, irritability
- reduced immunity: getting colds or worse, and having them linger
- no energy: crawling onto the couch and never getting off
- desiring social isolation and not wanting to engage with others as it's too "difficult"
- lack of concentration or brain fog
- fatigue, insomnia, or excessive sleepiness
- carbohydrate cravings or appetite changes
So what should you do?
- Make getting outside part of your daily routine. On the snowy days, a free ice facial awaits you! You'll have ruddy cheeks and fresh air in your lungs. Walk the dog if you have one. Grab a sled. This is still natural light which will help your melatonin production and later when it gets dark, you'll sleep better when that contrast sends your body into the proper sleep mode. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), this is the equivalent to being outside moving unencumbered (good) versus being stuck in a traffic jam (frustrating, bad). Exercising at the gym is good for your body, but this natural air and light is a whole different animal with exponentially beneficial effects.
- For anyone with insomnia at any time of year: ditch the blue screens! That's your iPad, phone, and anything else that will disrupt melatonin production. Insomnia is a multi-tiered issue in TCM that is broken down into categories: trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, or not sleeping soundly even though you're supposedly asleep. There are multiple approaches to take (see #6 and 7).
- Eat foods that won't send you into a endless carbohydrate-crash loop. Simple carbohydrates, also known as processed carbohydrates convert into sugar (or are sugar) too quickly in the liver and can impact hormone production, make you moody or jittery, send out too much insulin from the pancreas to deal with what your body perceives as a giant meal on the way, and then plummet your energy even lower than before - and craving even more sugar and processed carbohydrates. Serotonin production begins in the gut and the healthier you are eating, the more you are building good brain chemistry.
- DO schedule social interactions and stay on a modified schedule.
- Have your doctor test your Vitamin D and B12 levels. If you have been in this cycle for a while and feel achy, have osteopenia or osteoporosis, or are developing kidney stones (known as "moans, groans, and bones"), also have your parathyroid checked as this could be a sign of bigger issues that are harder to find than to treat. I never hesitate to refer people back to their doctor for testing. It's good information to have.
- Traditional Chinese Medicine: Like rebooting your phone or computer, acupuncture performs a manual reboot of many body systems. It calms the mind, increases mental sharpness, distributes blood more evenly, and regulates cycles (in sleep, menstruation, digestion), and also reduces hot flashes and night sweats . Acupuncture does not hurt, and most people report dozing off while on the table, feeling as if they are floating, and having creative thoughts. Acupuncture releases the body's natural painkillers, endorphins while regulating neurotransmitters.
- If you are a candidate for Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine, various formulas can improve mood, sleep, and digestion with fewer side effects than most antidepressants and is a shorter-term proposition. Chinese pharmacology is not viewed as "a pill for life" but as a way to correct an imbalance. Treatment shifts as the patient changes and improves.
Most importantly, it's going to be Groundhog Day soon which means we're only 6 weeks until spring. Until then, enjoy the longer days and bundle up.
Dana Hoffman is a Nationally Board Certified Diplomate in Acupuncture and is a Licensed Acupuncturist in the State of Illinois. In addition to hundreds of hours of clinical training she also studied under several esteemed doctors in Beijing, China. Her practice is in Northfield and in Chicago's Bucktown neighborhood. www.LakeShoreAcupunctureChicago.com