Seasonal Affective Disorder


It seems that around this time of the year, the sun starts to shy away from Chicago. I love the sunny days here, but I must say, for many of us our winter is hard to bear.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (referred to as SAD) is a type of depression that occurs at the same time every year – just about now. For most people, it begins in the fall and lasts into the winter months. It seems to affect people who live in areas where winter days are very short, or where there are big changes in the amount of daylight in different seasons like here in Chicago. Experts are not sure what causes SAD, but they think it may be caused by a lack of sunlight. Reduced exposure to sunlight may disrupt our sleep-wake cycle and other circadian rhythms. It may also cause problems with a brain chemical called serotonin that plays a role in and affects our mood. Reduced sunlight could cause a drop in serotonin, possibly leading to depression.

SAD symptoms usually start out mild and may become more severe throughout the season. Fall/winter SAD symptoms may include depression, anxiety, loss of energy, social withdrawal, oversleeping, weight gain and reduced concentration.

As you all know, I’m a huge advocate of acupuncture and Traditional Chinese medicine (and we have fabulous acupuncturists at Tiffani Kim Institute!) Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a great way to treat the symptoms associated with SAD.  Here’s what our fabulous acupuncturist Caroline Jung has to say:

Acupuncture and Chinese herbs are effective in reducing depressed feelings and anxiety which can lead to reduced energy, changes in weight, sleep patterns, and focus and concentration. TCM is a holistic medicine that treats your mind, body, and spirit all at the same time. For example, when we see emotional symptoms (i.e. depression) causing a physical symptom (i.e. oversleeping), we will plan a treatment to eliminate the depression which will lead to a balance in your sleeping patterns.

The acupuncture treatment helps to regulate our hormones which are associated with our moods. From an energetic viewpoint, acupuncture balances our energies. All of the energy in our bodies can easily become blocked due to a fluctuation in our emotions. Chinese herbs are a gentle and effective medicine to treat SAD symptoms. Specific herbs can help improve some of the classic SAD symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety, and reduced concentration. Another effective TCM therapy is qigong. Qigong is a system of breathing and physical exercises practiced to cultivate our energy. It is used by many as part of a meditation practice.

Along with using TCM therapies to treat seasonal affective disorder, we should make sure we are taking in the correct amounts of our required nutrients for our optimal health. Key nutrients can help in reducing depressed emotions as well: Omega-3 oils (flax oil and fish oils), B-vitamins, and magnesium. It is best for us to take in our vitamins and minerals through foods; this is because the nutrients are more easily absorbed into our digestive system this way.  A few sources of Omega-3 oils are flax seeds, salmon, sardines, dark green vegetables and walnuts. Some B-vitamin sources include seaweeds (nori, hijiki, and wakame), asparagus, broccoli, bananas, brown rice and figs. Sources of magnesium include quinoa, Brazil nuts, peas, lentils, halibut and spinach.

Now, I hope you consider acupuncture and TCM for beating the long Chicago winter blues this year!

Tiffani Kim

About Tiffani Kim

Tiffani Kim is an entrepreneur, fashion designer, artist and founder of the Tiffani Kim Institute Medical Wellness Spa in Chicago’s River North. Ms. Kim helps you stay youthful and healthy from the inside out in her blog, “Living Well and Beautifully” with advice, recommendations, trends and more.