SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and Acupuncture

By Mary Vincent, L.Ac

It’s that time of year again, when we see an increase of people walking through the door seeking relief from symptoms related to depression. We certainly see a lot of people all year around for this as depression is, of course, not an uncommon ailment, however something about this particular time of year either brings it on or exacerbates it in many individuals. Whether it’s an ongoing, year-round problem, the change in seasons, or simply the looming inevitability of the upcoming holidays, acupuncture can help relieve many of the related symptoms of depression.

Seasonal Depression

There are many different types of depression that can affect people either temporarily or year-round. For many people, this time of year not only brings with it pumpkins, chillier weather, and holiday feasts, but also the unwelcome guest of depression. Seasonal depression, otherwise known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, typically begins with the onset of fall and persists throughout the winter months. It is thought that hormones produced in the brain shift during these seasons, related to the reduced availability of sunlight throughout these months. Many theories include the idea that less sunlight leads to less production of serotonin in the brain, a hormone responsible for producing a calming, soothing effect on human moods. Therefore in some people, this could create symptoms related to depression. In addition, as was mentioned above, those who experience depression year-round may also see a marked increase in the amount or severity of symptoms related to their particular condition during the fall and winter months. The typical symptoms of depression are as follows:

▪ Fatigue/decreased energy
▪ Difficulty sleeping/sleeping too much
▪ Overwhelming sadness
▪ Difficulty concentrating
▪ Increase/decrease in appetite
▪ Weight gain/weight loss

In addition to the typical and well known symptoms listed above, in our experience we also see a notable increase in physical pain associated with people with depression. These individuals often have physical symptoms such as back pain and headaches that may worsen in relation to their level of depression.

How Can Acupuncture Help?

We see a larger than average number of people who receive a calming, soothing effect with their moods from acupuncture, regardless of what they are being treated for. In fact, a persistent feeling of calmness, relaxation, and an overall sense of well-being is often the first thing people report to us in feedback after their first treatment. Because of this, we would strongly suggest adding it to any regimen of treatments for depression, which should also include a healthy diet and regular exercise (particularly some exercise that involves exposure to sunlight). The amount of treatments suggested would vary based on the severity of the condition and its particular impact on the individual’s life. If you experience occasional depression, we would suggest coming in on an “as needed” basis. If you experience seasonal depression, we would suggest regular treatments 1-3 times a week throughout the affective seasons, based on the level of symptoms experienced. If you experience depression year-round, we would suggest 1-3 times a week ongoing, also based on the severity of the individual’s symptoms.

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