The Pacific Northwest is such a beautiful place to live. I have lived here since 1996, and I have but one complaint – the long, dark winter. Every winter I feel depressed and lack energy. I always thought the reason I felt depressed and tired was that the winter in Oregon is too rainy and cold for someone who grew up in a subtropical climate.
However, I have learned that there is a name for the disorder: Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, which affects approximately 5% of North Americans. Its symptoms include depression, lethargy, weight gain, and a craving for carbohydrates during winter months in the Northern Hemisphere.
Researchers have theorized that a lack of sunlight affects the secretion of melatonin from the pineal gland. The exact role of melatonin is uncertain, but it is known to lower the body temperature and to induce sleep. In short, lack of sunlight tricks our minds into thinking that it is time for sleep in the middle of the day and disrupts the healthy hormonal cycle of the day.
In Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine, it is stated that people and nature are inseparable, and the coldness of winter forces inactivity and storing. According to the Eastern Medicine tradition, winter belongs to Yin, meaning that it is the time for rest and nourishment.
Our bodies lack energy in winter because we have to constantly fend off the cold to keep warm. This lack of energy leads to lethargy and depression. We also crave carbohydrates for quick energy; overeating and a lack of physical activity leads to weight gain.
The recommended treatment for SAD is to spend as much time as possible in the sunlight (even on cloudy days) and to do some exercises in the sunlight. Another option is to buy a happy light, which is an electric light box that is supposed to mimic sunlight and to have the same effect on your body as natural light. To avoid weight gain associated with SAD, try to eat foods with a high protein content when you are craving carbohydrates.
Acupuncture is a great way to treat SAD because it reinstates the body’s natural hormonal balance.* Also, Acupuncture moves Qi in your body, which naturally improves your mood and increases your metabolic rate.