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How to cope with the winter blues (Seasonal Affective Depression)

Are you experiencing the winter blues? Don’t wait to get the support you deserve!

With shorter days and less sunlight you may start to feel sluggish, depressed, dread or just less energy than usual. In the Winter season, SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is quite common; it may manifest as mood swings, changes in appetite, sleep, energy levels and take a toll on all aspects of your life from your relationships and social life to work, school, and your sense of self-worth. We are here to help you reclaim your health and vitality back to your optimum state so you can live your life with more joy instead of dread during the cold winter months.

In Chinese Medicine, depression is called “Yu Zheng,” interpreted as “depression syndrome.” Yu Zheng is a general term for disorders caused by emotional frustration and qi stagnation, referring to a specific set of psychological or affective presentations such as depression, irritability, moodiness or anxiety.

“Yu Zheng” or depression syndrome can be divided into six sub-groups: Qi, Blood, Fire, Diet, Dampness and Phlegm.

How Acupuncture and Chinese herbs treat depression?

Acupuncture, herbs and lifestyle adjustments will work in concert to nudge your body to “awaken” its self-healing abilities. When you engage in excessive worry, overthinking, anxiety, depressive thoughts, moodiness, this will “dull your spirit” obstructing the free flow movement of Qi (vital energy); Qi is blocked or stagnated and the body cannot work or communicate in an efficient manner to promote optimum health and wellness.

Acupuncture releases endorphins, which naturally enhance your mood; it can also promote the brain’s production of serotonin “the happy brain mood boost chemical”, a neurotransmitter that is vital in regulating your mood.

TCM Syndrome Differentiation and Herbal Medicine in SAD and Depression

Pattern: Liver Qi StagnationThe Liver is the traffic control center of the body, directing the free flow of Qi; when there is too much “traffic” backed up, the body might be overwhelmed with the obstruction. The signs and symptoms of this syndrome are depression and mood swings, bloating and hypochondria pain, frequent sighing, crying fits, poor appetite, constipation and irregular menstruation.

Formula: Chai Hu Shu Gan San

Pattern: Qi Stagnation Turning into HeatJust like long-term traffic back-ups with drivers honking and screaming out of frustration, the body will do the same if liver Qi is not circulating properly. The body will start to react angrily, sometimes, even violently and has “heat.” The signs and symptoms are a short temper, irritability and anger, bitter taste and dry mouth, red eyes, headache, acid reflux and constipation.

Formula: Jia Wei Xiao Yao San

Pattern: Phlegm-obstructed QiIn TCM, “phlegm” can be substantial (palpable or visual) or insubstantial (affecting the mind). It’s the pathogenic factor that generates a disturbed spirit and weird symptoms. Plum Pit Qi syndrome is known as Globus Hystericus in conventional medicine. Signs and symptoms of phlegm-obstructed Qi are the sensation of having a lump or something stuck in the throat, hypochondriac fullness and pain, depression, and chest distention.

Formula: Ban Xia Hou Po Tang

Pattern: Spleen and Heart DeficiencyIn TCM, the spleen is the processing center for extracting nutrients and responsible for delivering it to other organs. When the spleen is not working properly, all the other organs function poorly due to malnourishment. The most affected organ is the heart. The heart houses the spirit, and it is the blood chamber that nourishes and calms the mind. Signs and symptoms of a spleen and heart deficiency syndrome are excessive thinking, fatigue, dizziness, palpitations, insomnia, poor memory, a pale complexion, poor appetite, crying fits, and disorientation.

Formula: Gui Pi tang and Gan Mai Da Zao Tang

Pattern: Kidney and Heart Yin Deficiency-Long-term depression and excessive worries can lead to over-consuming blood and essence, giving rise to sleep disturbances and heat signs. Signs and symptoms are as follows: depression, restlessness, palpitations, insomnia, night sweats, vivid dreams, heat sensations in the palms and soles of the feet, and a dry mouth and throat.

Formula: Tian Wan Bu Xin Dan

Acu-press your blues away with Yin Tang (aka Hall of Impression)

Yin Tang is a reflex point of the pituitary gland. It calms the mind and relaxes the body by helping control hormone secretions. This acupoint sits between the eyebrows is an effective point for calming the mind, aiding sleep, and overall well-being. Press for 3-5 minutes or until you feel more at ease and calm in your body.

Location: Sits between your eyebrows in an area known as the glabella.

Picture Source: Kanpobliss, Acupuncture Media Works

Yin Tang is the primary point in the treatment of seasonal affective disorder. Seated deeply behind to the pituitary gland, at the base of the hypophysisis lies the pineal gland, which responds to light and seasonal changes. When light levels are low, the pineal gland secretes melatonin, a hormone that it also manufactures, which is involved in the regulation of sleep and mood disorders. It has the effect of sedating the body and promoting sleep. Hence, during seasons of low light, the pineal gland constantly produces melatonin and a sleepy state is induced. By applying acupressure on Yin Tang, the pineal gland can be stimulated such that both lethargy and depression are decreased.

Lifestyle advice for Seasonal Affective Disorder

• With seasonal affective disorder, one may crave carbohydrates in the form of starches and sweets. If needed, consume breads, pastas and pastries made of whole grains instead of white flour. Add more protein to the diet such as nuts, lean meat, fish and small amounts of fat from cheeses or other sources; some fresh fruit; and plenty of cooked leafy vegetables, whole grains and baked vegetables such as yams or baked potatoes.

• Exercise regularly by walking vigorously 20 minutes, 5-7 days per week, in the morning or when there is the most sunlight. Sunlight helps with the production of vitamin D, a natural antidepressant.

• Work with lots of light by the windows to allow exposure to natural light.

• Avoid overeating or gaining weight. Both will make you more tired, more sensitive and depressed.

• Eat plenty of seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables. Fall vegetables such as pumpkin, squash, and sweet potatoes are great foods to warm the interior, boost digestive function and nourish the stomach and spleen. Pears and radishes can moisten the lungs to prevent dry cough and seasonal grief. Leafy greens aid the free flow of the liver Qi and nourish the blood and spirit.

• Try to go to bed earlier and get up earlier when there are more daylight hours. Avoid naps during the day, which can interfere with sleep in the evening.

• Think positive, happy thoughts. Try not to worry or be fearful. Enjoy the warmth of family, friends or any activity that brings "fire" to your life. Encourage the cultivation of joy in the patient's life.

We’re here to support and help you! Our Chinese Medicine practitioners will be happy to discuss any concerns you may have and custom tailor a treatment plan that fits your specific needs. Call today and schedule an appointment with us!

Phone: 224-313-5901


Address: 1400 S Wolf Rd. Bldg 200, Suite 203, Wheeling, IL 60090


1. Flaws B, Lake J. Chinese Medical Psychiatry: A Textbook and Clinical Manual. Blue Poppy Press, Boulder, CO, 2001, p. 449.

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