Seasonal Affective Not a Disorder
By Sara Calabro
Holidays, whether fun or stressful, are nothing if not distracting. With them now past, people may notice the return of emotional symptoms that surfaced just before the holiday season began. The biomedical community calls this SAD, or seasonal affective disorder, a condition that describes mood shifts associated with changing seasons.
Acupuncturists call it normal.
CNN, reporting yesterday on the condition, says SAD usually flares up when daylight savings ends, around the beginning of November. This is consistent with acupuncture theory, which denotes fall as the season of Lung, the body system associated with sadness and grief. Acupuncturists, however, view this predisposition to sadness in fall as a natural reaction to the seasonal shift rather than a cause for concern—or antidepressants.
In acupuncture theory, human beings are viewed as microcosms of nature. They are intimately affected by their surroundings, which includes the changing seasons. A tendency toward sadness, a pulling inward, is appropriate as the weather turns harsh. It’s when a patient is unable to settle into the emotional change, or transition out of it, that an acupuncturist might suspect an imbalance.
In Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine, a great book for understanding the tenets of acupuncture theory, the authors say, “The climates, emotions, and activities of life are not intrinsically good or bad. It is their excess or deficiency that distorts the pattern of flow.”
Acupuncturists think in terms of interconnected systems, so excessive sadness, for example, affects the Lungs—the organ, as well as the meridian, and associated structures (skin is one) and functions. This explains why fall is such a popular time for the onset of respiratory infections and dry skin that often linger into winter.
Acupuncturists tend to place special emphasis on the fall because it’s a pivotal time of transition from the more active seasons into the more passive. Regular acupuncture treatments in the fall prepare the body for smooth entrance into winter, during which treatments help maintain immune strength and emotional balance.
Likening human health to a garden which acupuncturists help sustain throughout the seasons, the authors of Between Heaven and Earth say, “The gardener…is like the acupuncturist when he builds fences, digs ditches, ponds, and channels for irrigation, adjusting the flow of water and wind.”
In other words, acupuncture guides the body toward optimal functioning by addressing our propensities in a given season. However, optimal functioning does not exclude a tendency toward passivity and inward reflection, naturally accompanied by feelings of grief and fear, during fall and winter. These are normal emotions for this time of year.
Because these feelings are in contrast to how we feel in warmer months—and because mainstream medicine and media tend to demonize them—it is easy to mistake them for depression. But actually, in the majority of cases, a turn inward during the darker and colder seasons is in concert with our natural state of being, a sign of health rather than disorder.
Photo by Sara Calabro