5 uncommon pieces of advice to manage Anxiety and Depression (based on Chinese Medicine)

Welcome to this post! Either if you ever tried Chinese Medicine before or not (Yeah…. needles stuff and energies), you must accept that the blog title grabbed your attention. For the fact of having clicked on the post, I thank you. Now it is my turn not to disappoint you. I will do my best! I promise you that it will be short enough to finish it in less than 10 minutes. Let’s start reading…

Winter is coming and days become darker, colder, cloudy and rainy. Lots of people get depressed in winter, or suffer from the "winter blues" (Seasonal Affective Disorder SAD). Others feel their current depressive symptoms getting worse.

Scientists believe that the problem is related to the way the body responds to daylight: shorter daylight hours produce higher melatonin, causing lethargy and symptoms of depression.

On the other hand, Chinese medicine teaches to live in harmony with the seasons: winter, spring, summer, late summer, and fall. Each season has many associations, which force us to change our habits as the seasons change so that we may create more balance between our bodies and the external environment. A more balanced with the external environment, less chances of getting sick, physically and emotionally. 

Before you start considering all those aspects as a complete full of s…t, let put some light on some basic concepts:

  • Chinese philosophy and Medicine are based in two dual factors: Yin and Yang, a pair of complementary opposites.
  • Whereas Yang represents light, heat, quick, expansive qualities; Yin represents the dark, cold, slow, inward energy.
  • Whereas Yang represents Summer, Winter represents the most Yin aspect in Chinese medicine.
  • Winter is associated with the Kidneys which hold our body’s most basic and fundamental energy. By Kidneys, based in Chinese Medicine, we don’t refer to the internal organ only, but a whole complex interaction with space, emotions and time. Hard to believe, isn’t it?
Winter, and Kidney, is associated with the element water, the colour black, the flavour salty/bitter, the fear, the North, the ears, the bones, the cold (of course) and 5pm-7pm time. As such, things that harm you during winter may be too much salt in your diet, not drinking enough water (not being thirsty in winter doesn’t mean your body does not need fluids), excess ejaculation in men and women, prolonged and intense physical and mental activities (too much stress or working long hours). In general, anything in excess (excessive behaviours like too much drinking and drugs).

Now, if everything can be categorized by Yin and Yang, where do Anxiety or Depression stand-up?

  1. Anxiety is that a person can have excessive energy, also referred to as heat or energy Qi, in the head. Symptoms of anxiety include insomnia, racing thoughts, and excessive worry. In such a case, the treatment would consist of inserting needles into specific points in the body to reduce those symptoms and fast-thinking processes. Based on what we learn above, anxiety would be a Yang condition.
  2. Depression, on the other hand, can be described as stagnant energy within the body. By stagnation we refer to blockage, full, something stopped. The stagnation leads to symptoms of depression, such as melancholy, anger, fatigue all the time no matter how many hours you sleep, lack of inspiration or inability to focus. The person with depression doesn’t understand why it’s depressed, either might be any reasoning, or not. Treatment would consist of inserting needles to re-balance your emotional state of mind. Depression would be considered as a Yin condition.

However we’re not here to insert needles or provide an acupuncture service, but to give you some tips to cope with both conditions from today.


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That said, let list the 5 tips to cope with depression and anxiety during the “darkest” months:

 

1- “Movimiento es vida”

Winter is a time to slow down and feed ourselves both physically or spiritually. Meditation, Yoga or Pilates are practices particularly helpful at this time of the year.

Although your activities must be quiet time and turning inwards, it’s important to be active during daylight.

Long working hours in the office are not helpful for people with depressive symptoms. Think about that: a Yin condition as depression within a Yin workplace as sitting down 8 hours a day within an office? If this is your scenario, you need to make sure to do some exercise every day before or after your shifts. You need to fill in your daily Yang duties.  

If you are sleepless in bed, get up of bed (I know… this might be the hardest part of the day for someone suffering depression, even more if it’s still cold outside), and be active. Dress up quickly and do any physical activity. By physical I mean not watching TV at 4 am or checking your iPhone. Do something which involves moving your body.

Anxiety is a Yang condition: excessive internal energy. Then, let consume this energy. If you can’t sleep at night, it means your body is still storing so much energy inside. Therefore, it needs to be released. How? Burning up calories: sweating and moving. No secrets: just move either if is 11 pm in the night or 4:30 am in the morning. Do anything apart from being in bed.

Movement generates well-being. Get up during light time, go out for a run every day, and create the habit: make your body get used to it.

 

2- Eat what you need (not necessary 5 portions of fruits or vegetables a day).

For the past 20 years, various national campaigns in several countries such as the United States, Spain, United Kingdom, France, Germany and Ireland have encouraged the consumption of at least five portions of fruits and vegetables each day, following the recommendations by the World Health Organization.

I’m not going to question such statement. Even there are scientists that say just 2.5 portions daily can lower chance of heart disease, stroke, cancer and premature death, which is promising.

However, Chinese Medicine doesn’t categorize fruits and veggies by their content and nutrients but what kind of effects they have in your body. As mentioned above about Yin and Yang aspects, foods are also classified by the same duality. If you’re suffering from Anxiety (Yang condition predominately), then your diet should be rich on Yin foods, to fight against the Yang disease. The same with Depression (Yin condition predominately), but opposite scenario: Yang foods to fight against the Yin condition.

As such, your perfect diet plan would be the most convenient for your condition:

  • Anxiety: foods that are sweet-sour in flavor: tomatoes, spinach, cucumbers, celery, Wheat, barley, Apples, pears, citrus fruit, raspberries, gooseberries. You should avoid spices such as curry, ginger, garlic, and pepper. Onions, high-proof alcohol, warming cooking methods like frying, grilling also should be avoided. Also decrease warm foods and meat (abstain from meat for four to six weeks, especially, lamb, beef, poultry, pork). Decrease intake of coffee, red wine, and salt.
  • Depression: foods that are bitter and salty in flavor. Apples, bananas, mushrooms, asparagus, plums, radish, leeks, spinach, tomatoes, barley, wheat germ, rice, corn, pork, beef, poultry, lemon balm tea, peppermint tea, wheat beer. On the other hand, you should avoid highly alcoholic beverages, sweets, drugs, coffee, heavily spiced foods.

And if possible, have fruits and vegetables in season and the more adapted to your local conditions (harvested as close as possible to you): these would be the more adapted to your environment, better “medicine” for your condition, apart from being cheaper and respectful with our planet.  

Don’t have the same food all the year: combine and change depending upon how you feel and where you are.

 

3-   When the night is falling, less intensity activities.

When the world gets dark and goes to sleep, you should follow it.

We have to come back to the Yin-Yang duality. As Yang is morning-afternoon, Yin is evening-night. This concept means that your physical and mental activities should move from vigorous-high intensity in the morning to moderate-low intensity as the sun goes down.

In winter, doing jogging in the evening after work, studying for your exams until late, starting relationship discussions or watching your favorite TV series which requires you to be intellectually functioning are not the best operations to be performed at night. You wouldn’t believe how changing those “minor” actions can be a great help for your anxiety or depression.

 

4- Your bed is ONLY for sleep.

Sleeping and lying down in bed is the “Yinnest” action for a human body. Avoid multiple distractions in your room that interferes with your transition into sleep (smartphones, laptops, mobile devices or TVs). Change your smartphone alarm system for an Alarm Clock.

Your body has to relate bed with sleep and rest. Nothing else. Reading a book in bed? As long as it’s helping you to fall asleep, they are welcome; books usually are dream food.

Before you ask me, let me go ahead: What about having sex in bed? Although people with depression and anxiety might lose their libido, having sex would be the best “antidepressant”: sex is the “Yangest” action to cope with Yin conditions such as depression or even anxiety (yeah, I know that I said anxiety is predominately yang but sex burns calories so heat and energy). However, in winter, better having sex in the morning.

 

5- Habit:

This might be the most important piece of advice for you.

A habit is a learned behavior that a person repeats so often that he or she begins to do it without even thinking about it. Certain habits can be helpful, others not. However, any person can build any habit on purpose, to achieve a positive objective.

Bad habits are also built in purpose, even if the person is not aware of. 

Based on Chinese Medicine, habits on summer time can’t be the same than winter time. The world is constantly changing so you are. Break your internal rules and flow with your environment. 

If you feel low in winter, get outside as often as you can, especially on bright days. Go for holiday somewhere sunny especially if you suffer from depressive tendencies, break your routines every now and then; keep active. Activity is believed to change the level of the mood-regulating chemical serotonin in the brain.

 

How long will it take to feel results? Well, the time depends on the patient, the severity of symptoms, the number of symptoms and how chronic is the condition. As longer you’ve been suffering for your anxiety and depression, longer treatment is required. Forming new habits require time and effort. It is difficult to break any habit and forming new ones. However as earlier your start replacing your bad habits, easier will be tomorrow to keep following the new ones. Remember, nothing is impossible. Keep them up!


This article doesn’t pretend to substitute any specific therapy. Treatments, dosages and recommendations must be established by your therapist, doctor or practitioner.

Jose Rodriguez LAc, acupuncturist and food scientist. Founder of AcuRodos – Mobile Acupuncture in Dublin (Ireland).