Feeling down? Tired? Stressed?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a very real malady that affects millions of people worldwide. SAD is akin to depression, but with very specific cause and symptoms. As the name implies, this disorder occurs in people most commonly during the autumn and winter months when we are not getting as much natural Vitamin D from sunlight.
Symptoms of SAD may include:
- persistent low mood
- loss of interest in normal everyday activities that previously were found interesting
- feeling despair, guilt and/or worthlessness
- lacking in energy and/or feeling sleepy during the day
- sleeping for longer than normal and/or finding it hard to get up in the morning
- craving carbohydrates and gaining weight
Even if you aren’t one of those in the UK with SAD, these winter months have a lot of reasons to feel a bit down, even during a year without COVID-19 and lockdowns.
Whatever the reason, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) offers many natural ways to feel better, have more energy, and lift your mood.
1- Ginseng for Energy and Mood
Ginseng is known worldwide for its amazing benefits. Both common types of ginseng (Asian and Siberian ginseng) are known for their ability to energize and combat stress. While stress management is a serious concern for just about all of us, so are energy levels. Taking ginseng to boost energy isn’t just for the athletes. It’s for the depressed and down as well.
While Siberian ginseng doesn’t actually have the chemical properties that constitute a real ginseng, its effects are very similar. The most common ways to add ginseng to your diet are:
2- Add Bitter Yang Foods to your Diet to Balance Winter Yin
According to traditional Chinese medicine, all ailments stem from an imbalance in the body’s yin and yang. Eating warm and bitter yang foods, you can help bring these two essences back to harmony.
Bitter yang foods include:
We also recommend padding your diet with foods that are rich in Vitamin D:
- Herring & Sardines
- Canned Tuna
- Egg Yolk
- Pork Chops
- Fortified Foods (Cereal, orange juice, milk, yogurt, oatmeal, tofu)
In addition to having a lot of Vitamin D, many of these foods also contain a high percentage of protein, which can help combat the feeling of wanting carbohydrates. Protein rich diets help the body to feel full, making your SAD-related carb cravings easier to manage.
3- Stimulate Qi with Exercise
Qi, the body’s lifeforce, can become stagnant for a variety of reasons, a sedentary lifestyle being one of them. When your qi is stagnant, you are at risk of a wealth of poor effects, including bad generally and having a bad mood.
Exercise gets both your blood and your qi moving. This, in addition to the positive endorphins exercise releases, will often help you feel better in general. It’s especially recommended if you are eating lots of stress carbs!
We recommend these kinds of exercise to improve your mood:
- Tai Chi
- Brisk Walking
- Intense exercise (such as jogging, playing football or rugby, and cycling).
4- Cordyceps to Restore Energy and Wellness
One of the most devastating aspects of SAD as well as chronic stress is the lack of energy. Both ginseng and cordyceps are helpful for increasing energy levels, making them ideal TCM supplements to take when feeling down and tired.
Cordyceps increases energy and mental wellbeing in a couple ways. One way is by increasing the body’s production of ATP, which is a nucleotide used in cellular reactions as an energy source. Another is by optimizing the body’s use of oxygen at the cellular level. Cordyceps also has anti-inflammatory effects, which can ease the inflammation that stress causes in the brain.
5- Acupuncture Releases Endorphins
Yes! Acupuncture can release endorphins, the hormones you release during exercise that stimulates positive feelings.
Acupuncture also improves mood and can even help with depression care by increasing the flow of energy in the body. This is a similar effect to our qi’s movement as with exercise. It is crucial to move qi and energy in our bodies when we feel down, since all ailments are linked to imbalances in energy. Traditional Chinese medicine sees mental health issues the same way it sees more traditional illnesses: as energy being out of balance.
Additionally, acupuncture helps manage stress and stress-related inflammation, which can help prevent your mood from being lowered in the first place.
6- Reishi Mushrooms Calm the Spirit
Reishi mushrooms are another TCM herbal supplement that lifts mood. In fact, it is one of the principal ways Taoist monks relieved stress over the centuries. In TCM, reishi mushrooms are known to open up the crown chakra, the energy centre of the body, allowing for stagnant stress and burdens to move on and dissipate.
In more medical terms, reishi mushrooms calm the nervous system. This is important since some mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression, have been linked to imbalances in neurotransmitters, specifically serotonin, dopamine, GABA, and norepinephrine.
Reishi mushrooms also support adrenal health. During times of intense stress, your adrenals produce cortisol and adrenaline, which are safe in small, secluded moments, but very negative when produced over time. These mushrooms are adaptogens, known to improve kidney and adrenal wellbeing.
Reishi mushroom supplements commonly come in the following forms:
7- Breathing Exercises to Reset Fight-or-Flight Responses
The fight-or-flight reaction is a parasympathetic nervous system response to stressors. Of course, these reactions are natural and often very helpful. While we don’t want this system triggered all the time, like it is with chronic stress, we can borrow some of its more positive effects in measured doses.
Panting is one way to activate the parasympathetic nervous system in a controlled way. This panting breathing exercise mimics the steady breathing that dogs do when they are hot or nervous. By panting for 90 seconds, you can wake yourself up with a boost of energy and even a sense of clarity. Just make sure you are breathing steadily from deep in your belly, not in your chest or throat.
8- Schisandra Fruit for Combating Stress and Fatigue
As another adaptogen (in TCM for bringing the body back to homeostasis), the schisandra fruit is known for containing all five TCM tastes: bitter, pungent, salty, sour, and sweet. Chinese medicine herbalists often recommend this berry for excess stress, sleeping problems, fatigue, and low immune system.
You can add schisandra fruit to your diet with:
9- Lavender Slows Heart Rate and Relaxes Muscles
Lavender oil is a very popular natural remedy for stress and anxiety. The difference between lavender and the other herbal medicine on this list is that lavender isn’t added to the diet. Rather, it is aromatherapy. Inhaling lavender oil is believed to activate the limbic system, which is the part of our nervous system that helps us deal with emotions and anxiety.
Lavender therapy can help some of the symptoms of anxiety, such as insomnia, excessive worry, and muscle tension. Not sure if this solution would work for you? Simply take a deep breath of lavender from a diffuser or by placing oil on your wrists. You can often feel the relief immediately as your body relaxes.
Remember, if you’re feeling anxiety or depression it is always recommended to talk to the appropriate specialist.
There are no one-size-fits-all methods for lifting your spirits and feeling better. The methods above happen to work for many people, over thousands of years. Have patience and find out what works best for you when you’re feeling down, tired, or stressed.
Find many of the herbal remedies listed above in our online shop.