7 Steps to Help Seasonal Affective Disorder
Fall is the time of years when people’s energy takes a hit. After having had the sun’s natural source energy, many people report feeling more tired, down and lethargic. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a big problem here in Vancouver where it’s uncommon to have long stretches of rain and no sunlight. This year we’ve managed to stave off SAD due to a prolonged summer. Unfortunately, our great weather has been replaced with colder, wetter and shorter daylight hours.
The sun is pure yang energy – it’s light and warmth means we don’t have to generate energy to stay warm. We need Yang energy – it’s our get up and go! It’s why beach holidays are soo popular. Unfortunately, we can’t just hop on a plane when we’re feeling tire and run down – well most of us can’t. The challenge becomes how do we generate energy to avoid falling into a pit of despair this time of year with the colder days and diminished light?
- Keep your energy moving – the best, most natural way to improve your mood is to move – walking, biking, running or hiking outdoors in the woods or by a body of water is going to naturally reset your mood. It’s recommended 45 minutes provides the optimum relief. You don’t even need to break a sweat for it to be effective.
- If you want to regulate your mood take a yoga class – the long exhales and guided movement regulates your autonomic nervous system which relieves anxiety. Qi Gong, Tai Chi will work nicely too.
- Check you iron level. People who are anemic they will naturally feel more tired, have trouble falling and staying asleep and feel more anxious and suffer from cold hands and feet.
- Eat warmer foods!!!! You are what you eat! If you’re diet consists of cold raw foods like smoothies, salads and sushi then you are not building yang energy rather you’re depleting it. Build your yang energy naturally by eating warm, cooked foods. Soups, stews, oatmeal and warm beverages should become the mainstay of your diet this time of year and heading into winter.
- FUN!! Yes, fun. Surround yourself with people who make you feel good, loved and supported. There is nothing worse than being with people who make you feel anxious, angry or upset – they rob you of your energy. If you want to boost your mood than choose carefully who and how you spend your time. Spending the whole day indoors binge watching Netflix series is not going to get you there.
- Take care of yourself. Schedule a massage or mani-pedi, something that says “I Love You”
- If you do feel yourself going off the rails or if you want to avoid going off the rails then make acupuncture a regular part of your health care program. Acupuncture regulates your body’s yang and yin energies. If you’re especially deficient in yang energy there are Chinese formulas you can take to help boost it.
Cupping for Sore Muscles
Out of the areas of the body I treat – neck and shoulder pain is the most common complaint.
The base of the skull where the occiput meets the trapezius muscle, the top of the shoulder or in between the shoulder blades these three areas are generally the tightest and cause the most pain.
In fact, depending on how tight these muscles are they may also cause headaches that travel up the back of the neck and into the orbital area. If severe enough, it can lead to migraines.
Accidents, especially where people are hit from behind or on the side (T-boned) – in other words – they didn’t see it coming, can cause a lot of pain in these areas. One from the pure trauma to the muscles and tissue itself –seatbelt restraint, but also PTSD. Trauma will also cause the C7 area to light up and feel sore even when the muscles aren’t tight.
So how does acupuncture actually relieve pain in these areas? Different practitioners will approach it differently – but I take several approaches.
First – Relax the Muscle by working the fascia level. Gua Sha does a beautiful job of this. Using a rose quartz stone I continually go over the area repeatedly working out the knots.
Second – Relieve the Muscle by inserting needles. I will insert them into the affected area but I will also use distal or needles located further away from the actual pain points. Energy needs to travel. If something is stuck it needs a way out. That’s the beauty of acupuncture. We are moving energy to and away from affected areas of the body.
Third – Cupping. I like to cup the back – sometimes on the sore muscle but more often on the mid to low back. You can use cups instead of needles, but I like cupping to relieve stress often the cause of the pain. It’s a nice compliment to the needles
Fourth – Electrically Stimulate the Muscle – putting little tiny calipers on the end of needles and sending a small current of electricity down the needle is super effective especially for tears. It has been proven to generate stem cell growth. It brings blood and oxygen to the muscle. It’s great for chronic pain. But it’s not for everyone – i.e. pace makers, epilepsy, pregnancy.
Repeat 3 Times – for the best results, especially if your shoulders are super tight or you’ve had this condition long time, plan on three treatments once a week. I also STRONGLY encourage my patients to book a massage in the same week, ideally about 2-3 days apart. Acupuncture and massage are a beautiful compliment and work really well together to break down the tension in the muscles.
Shinrin-Yoku is a Japanese term for forest bathing. The practice of taking in the forest atmosphere. It was introduced by the Japanese in the 1980’s to address tech-boom burnout. A form of ecotherapy, it connects people with nature.
Walking in nature for at least 45 minutes calms us down – right down. Wood is the element related to liver. When we are stressed, anxious or depressed our qi becomes blocked or stagnates. More and more stress with no relief causes this stagnation to grow eventually affecting our digestion, sleep and hormones.
Exercise helps run our qi or energy. It’s like a release valve. Walking in nature is even more effective as it regulates our liver qi. Like acupuncture when our emotions build, and we have no outlet for releasing them receiving acupuncture is like popping a balloon. It provides a channel for the Qi to be released from the body. Emotions are energy.
I had a new patient come to see me this past week. She had never had acupuncture before – dry needling from physio but not actual acupuncture where we intentionally guide excess energy out of the body versus firing motor points. When I followed up with her to see how she was feeling, she messaged me this,
“Yes, much better. In fact, everyone I spoke to yesterday told me that I sounded “more relaxed than they have ever heard me!”
Running our energy is vital to our health. Exercise, Yoga, Acupuncture, Qi Gong and Tai Chi are all ways we can run our energy and regulate ourselves. They combine awareness with breath with movement. This results in regulating our vagus nerve leaving us feeling calm and grounded.
A regulated body is a healthy body. When we are in balance, we don’t get sick. Our immune system is charged. We feel strong, positive and healthy. In short, if our energy is regulated, we are at our best. This is where we get things done, are most creative and manage life’s challenges with ease.
So get out and do some forest bathing. Allow your body to absorb the beauty and feel the calm sedative effects. The photo featured above was from a hike we did this Saturday along Qualicum River, Horne Lake.
I never intended to treat trauma when I started practising acupuncture. In fact, this was not one of the over 300 illness we studied at TCM school. And yet here I am now into my 7th year, and it’s become one of my practice specialities.
The Longer the Trauma Lasts, The Greater the Impact on the Body
Trauma is not a specific illness, rather it’s the root cause of a lot of illness: IBS, asthma, eczema, migraines, fibroids, irregular periods, cancers, heart and stroke, obesity, addiction and autoimmune disorders.
There are also many types of traumas, but here’s what we scientifically have proven,
Types of Trauma
Car accidents, sexual abuse, neglect, abandonment, violence, alcoholic parents and divorce are just some of the types of trauma people may experience in their lifetime. We have termed it post-traumatic stress disorder – PTSD. When trauma occurs if it’s not processed emotionally and released it gets stored in the body. The body becomes dysregulated or technically it will stay in “hyper vigilance mode” what we know as fight or flight. A traumatized person often lives with their autonomic nervous system turned on. This state was designed for quick on and off response to stressors or perceived threat. We ideally should live in our parasympathetic state – the rest and digest state. This is where repair and maintenance takes place. It’s our calm stat
People don’t realize that their past determines their present.
When I am doing timelines on people’s health histories what I see time and time again is their illness started shortly after the trauma occurred or it would flair up if they became triggered or re-traumatized again. People don’t realize that their past determines their present. One of the best books on trauma and the long-term impact on health is by Dr. Bessel van Der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score. This book has been on the New York Times Best Seller List for 8 years!!!
He cites study after study showing the impact trauma has on the physical, behavioral and cognitive level – it literally reshapes both the body and the brain.
The reason I am writing these posts is to make people aware that their emotional histories are often the cause of their medical problems. Until we make these connections and heal the underlying emotional wounds, we will not succeed in healing their physical illnesses.
How Does Acupuncture Heal Trauma?
Quite simply, acupuncture when combined with healing touch switches a patient living in their autonomic nervous system to their parasympathetic nervous system. They go from fight and flight to rest and digest. It moves them to a state of calm. They feel safe. A person who feels safe can digest their food, fall asleep at night, relax the muscles in their body, strengthened their immune system. The challenge is keeping them in this state as environment and events will trigger them again. My primary goal is always to get people to a state of deep calm from here they can begin their healing process both emotionally and physically. I don’t work alone. People who have been traumatized need care and support.
Why are Love and Compassion Are Critical to Healing Trauma
As humans we not only track another person’s movements but also their emotional state and intentions. When we are in sync with each other we mirror each other: our voices, our stance, our facial expressions and mood. For example if someone is happy, positive and smiling, we feel that and adapt to that. We actually have mirror neurons that are constantly registering these experiences and our bodies are making adjustments based on these experiences.
We as a species are VERY attuned to subtle emotional shifts in people – deep exhale, changes in expression even subtle shifts like a raised eyebrow, leaning back and folding arms, all of these gestures no matter how subtle and unconsciously we make them signal whether this is a safe situation or an unsafe situation.
When someone sees me and their face lights up I am unconsciously tracking this but subconsciously I will relax and feel safe. And it is very likely I will great them with a smile.
Conversely if they are angry, my first instinct is to pause, guard, search their face for anger cue. Often when someone is angry with us we will become defensive, and depending on the situation become angry too. This is how mirroring works. We are unconsciously responding to people’s facial and physical cues all the time. It’s how we measure safety.
Now why is mirroring so important to people who have been traumatized? The root of it has to do with validation. When we are happy to see people, we validate them with our responses. We smile. We listen to them when they are speaking to us. In short, we are present. Being present with someone signals that they are important. They are worthy of time and attention.
Our Social Relationships Can Either Save Us or Trigger Us
According to Stephen Porges, the researcher who introduced Polyvagal Theory,
When we are seen and heard by the important people in our lives – our parents, our spouse, our friends, bosses or teachers – in short, our support system – we feel calm and safe. And why when we are ignored or dismissed can trigger rage or mental collapse.
When people provide focused attunement, when they pay attention to us, hold the space and actively listen, this can shift us out of a disorganized and fearful state into a calm grounded state.
Our social relationships can either save us or trigger us – it’s just that simple. Being able to feel safe with other people is, according to Bessell Van Der Kolk, The Author of The Body Keeps the Score, the single most important aspect of mental health – safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives.
So when something bad happens like a car accident and you end up in the hospital your social support will be the most powerful protection against becoming overwhelmed by stress and trauma. Were you cared for after something bad happened? Was there love and attention?
Unconditional Love and Compassion are the Keys to Healing
This is how healing occurs after a trauma occurs. It is not enough to have your basic needs met during a time of crisis i.e. the loss of a spouse, reciprocity is being truly heard and seen by people around us. Feeling that we are held in someone’s mind and heart – we were loved and cared for. We need reciprocity for us to calm down, for our bodies to calm down and not stay in trauma and flight mode. We need that visceral feeling of safety we also need to have love and comfort from the people around us. Unconditional love and compassion are the keys to healing.