Changing Seasons and Depression Changing Seasons and Depression

By Dr. Shannon Lawrence, D.A.O.M, L.Ac, Dipl. O.M.

Do you ever wonder why you feel down once summer is over, even though you are rejuvenated from your vacation and ready for a new venture? Chances are you are simply reacting to less light as the days get shorter. Depression is a mood disorder and a major medical illness caused by many factors, including chemical receptors in the brain not firing correctly, hormonal changes, environmental factors like diminished daylight, genetics, and stress. According to WHO (World Health Organization), worldwide depression affects 280 million people yearly, with women making up nearly 50% of this number and an additional 10% in pregnant and postpartum women.

Here's a symptoms checklist for depression:

  • Persistent sadness and guilt
  • Feeling hopeless or empty
  • Sensations of anxiety, irritability, frustration, or anger
  • Insomnia, especially early morning waking or sleeping for long periods
  • Loss of interest in activities and eating
  • Body pains and constant headaches
  • Suicidal thoughts

From a Chinese medical perspective, depression is caused by stagnation of Liver energy, impairing the manufacturing of essential ingredients for neurotransmitters in the brain. Similarly, when Liver Qi stagnates, it fails to break down the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn creates a cascade of reactions that results in an imbalance of neurotransmitters that affects mood and emotions.

Depression associated with changing seasons and the dark sky of fall and winter is generally referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Medical literature has documented the SAD phenomenon by the Chinese and the Greeks preceding the birth of Christ. It affects mood and the function of the mind, disrupting serotonin and melatonin levels in the brain. When SAD is recurrent, it can be problematic, and in some individuals, most of the symptoms may remain throughout the year.

The circadian rhythm of the body is a crucial player in the development of SAD. The circadian rhythm is our body's internal time clock and influences everything, including mood, sleep, appetite, body temperature, reaction time, mental awareness, blood pressure, and immunity. Our eyes open with light and close without light - primordial programming from millions of years of evolution that dictates many physiological functions.

In regions with Daylight Savings, people's circadian rhythm must adjust in autumn and fall back one hour. The days become shorter, with less sunlight and, therefore, less Vitamin D, so no wonder our bodies struggle physically and mentally. We begin to feel withdrawn; brain fog develops, and sleep and eating changes all conspire to cause Liver energy to become agitated and aggravated and wound up like a tight rubber ball, allowing depression to root itself.

This is a time in Chinese medicine when we make our way from Yang (Summer) time to Yin (Winter) time. This is a time for us to allow our bodies to rest and reflect internally and sleep more. Summer is joyous and hot with many celebrations, while Winter is cold, it can be lonely and cause fear and sadness.

Below are some tips to help recover from lack of light and daylight savings, helping to keep your emotions happy and healthy:

Be Sure to Get Enough Vitamin D
This comes from food, supplements, sunlight, and light therapy. Spend at least one hour in the sun during the early morning, as the circadian clock is sensitive to the sun. If you live where it is primarily dark during the winter months, you can use a light therapy box. We also suggest our Vitamin D & K supplement, which has essential vitamins that play important roles in several physiological processes, including bone health, cardiovascular health, and cognitive function.

Keep a Daily Routine

Sleep and eating patterns should stay regular. Melatonin regulates our waking and sleeping cycles, while serotonin regulates mood, circadian rhythm, and appetite. Serotonin converts to melatonin as the light changes and the days get shorter, so it's essential to listen to the natural intuition of your body and go to sleep. Instead of taking melatonin, which is a hormone, we advise instead to stimulating your own body's production of melatonin with herbs like jujube seed, polygala, and cypress seed in the Sleep formula.

Focus on a Joyful Disposition and Keep your Mood Elevated

We suggest meditation or our Mood Elevation supplement, specifically designed to help free the liver energy from the blocked state and relieve sadness and depression while calming the mind. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, this classic formula is said to 'nourish the Heart, tranquilize the mind and harmonize the Middle Jiao. Helpful for restlessness, absent-mindedness, moodiness, excessive crying and yawning, insomnia, and possible night sweats.

Exercise Daily, During the Day

Research shows daily exercise can curb the signs and symptoms of depression as well as keep it at bay once it is under control. Serotonin levels are increased with movement, thus supporting melatonin production and controlling the sleep-wake cycles. My favorite is a qi gong practice every morning outside in the sun. I recommend Dr. Mao's Dao-In every morning as it's a great starter for the mind and body and an excellent stretching practice.

Find Comfort

Find comfort in your favorite pajamas and slippers or your favorite comforter or blanket. Enjoy that book you have been waiting to read or journal or draw.

Choose the Right Dessert

Blueberries, an antioxidant, will not disrupt blood sugar like sweets such as cakes and pastries do.

Fill Up on Proteins

Proteins, including salmon and rainbow trout, with a rich supply of Vitamin D and Omega 3 fatty acids, support cognitive function, cardiovascular health, and lubrication of the bones and joints.

Drink Teas

Drink teas, including green and our Sleep Tea. Green tea contains theanine, a polyphenol that supports the balance of neurotransmitters and improves cognitive function, immunity, metabolism, stress, and sleep.

Get Your Greens

Eat leafy greens packed with B vitamins, which support depression and anxiety as well as cognitive function and overall energy.

Acupuncture for Balance

Finally, acupuncture has been found in studies to improve depression and neurotransmitter balance, as well as help the regulation of the circadian clock and treat deep-rooted emotional imbalance.

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