Surrender & Reflect: Advice for Winter

The Solstice marks the official start of Winter here in the Northern hemisphere. The short days of Autumn have brought us to this darkest day, and now we gradually begin to see more light in our days once again. Though we’re heading back toward lighter days, this season remains a time of coldness and darkness, and it’s important to conserve our energy to remain healthy throughout the next three months.

The Water Element & Associated Organ Systems

Winter in Chinese medicine is ruled by the Water element, the most yin of the five elements (water, earth, fire, metal, wood). Yin represents rest, stillness, coldness, night, nourishment, consolidation, and contraction. The Water element influences the health of the Kidneys – one’s primary source of energy and vitality. The health of the Kidneys can manifest in the hair, lower back, joints, ears (hearing), sexual drive and function, reproduction and bones/teeth. An imbalance or weakness of the Kidneys can lead to problems in these systems.

The Urinary Bladder is also associated with the Water element, and serves as the paired organ to the Kidneys. It is responsible for storing and excreting the waste fluids from the kidneys.

Winter Emotions

Fear is the emotion associated with the Water element in Chinese Medicine. While we tend to think of fear in the negative sense, it can also be viewed as a very healthy emotion. Fear allows us to remain alert to the situations surrounding us – an important element of survival. Constructive fear can guide us away from situations that might not be serving our greatest potential.

When the Water element and it’s associated Kidney organ is out of balance, fear can become pathological. This can manifest as intense phobias or chronic anxiety. If you are suffering from anxiety and fear, acupuncture and botanical medicines can help to bring your Kidney function back to health.

When the Urinary Bladder is out of balance, depression, fatigue, and difficulty adapting to new circumstances can occur.
Try to practice self-acceptance: observe your fears without judgement, to allow them to move through you rather than getting stuck. When fear “freezes” us, this can lead to hopelessness. Be kind to yourself, and learn to gently witness and accept your emotions (like you would with a dear friend), rather than getting consumed by them.

General Tips for Staying Healthy

Stay Warm

This is no time for ice water! While it is important to stay hydrated during Winter, eating and drinking cold foods and liquids is contrary to the season and will weaken your system. Instead, drink plenty of warm liquids (cinnamon & ginger teas are excellent for this time of year!) and eat warming foods such as hearty soups (especially bone broths, which is a powerful tonic for the Kidneys), roasted root vegetables, squashes, black beans and red adzuki beans. Fish and shellfish are a great choice for protein.

Also, dress accordingly. In Chinese Medicine, the neck and shoulder areas are especially important to keep bundled and safe from wind to avoid getting sick. The lower back houses the Kidneys, so it is prudent to keep this area warm to prevent damaging the source of your vital energy!

Activities

It is best to follow the rhythm of the season and increase your periods of rest. Go to bed early, and sleep in if you’re able to. Inward activities such as writing, meditating, and reading are excellent for this time of year.

While yes, Winter is an important time to slow down and reflect, you shouldn’t stop moving altogether! Now is a good time for fluid-movement exercises such as Tai Chi, qigong, yoga, and dance.

Winter Reflecting

In Winter, nature slows down and hibernates in preparation for Spring. We can follow nature’s cue and use this season to turn inward. Winter is an excellent time for exploring the deeper issues in our lives. Use the natural stillness of this season to meditate and reflect on where you’re at, where you’ve been, and where you’re going. Winter is also a great time to pay attention to your dreams. Try writing them down and see if you notice any patterns!feet-in-snow

Tips for Taming Your Anxiety

Do you suffer from anxiety?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, you are not alone. Anxiety disorders affect 18.1 % of the US adult population. That’s almost one fifth of the adult population! That’s a lot of people! The average age of onset is 11 years old, and if you are a woman you are 60% more likely to be affected in your lifetime.

Under the umbrella of anxiety disorders, there are an array of disorders including Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Specific Phobias, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It’s not uncommon for sufferers to experience depression concurrently (or visa versa). It’s also not uncommon for people to experience anxiety as a prominent feature in the following disorders: Bipolar Disorder, Eating Disorders, Headaches, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Sleep Disorders, Substance Abuse, Adult Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), Chronic Pain, Fibromyalgia, and Stress.

So what exactly is anxiety?

Anxiety is, simply put, nervousness. Fear. Worry. Unease. The truth is, everyone feels nervous at times. We all know what it’s like to worry. To feel afraid or uneasy or fearful. To some extent, anxiety is normal. What is that extent? Where does the line get drawn between a healthy, normal amount of anxiety and an excessive, pathological amount of anxiety? That’s a good question.

I think the answer to this question lies in how well you are managing it and how frequently and intensely are you experiencing it.

Do you have an upcoming work deadline that you are feeling nervous about? You might be well within the boundaries of normal. Do you feel afraid to leave your house for fear of interacting with someone? You might be venturing into the realm of a social anxiety disorder or possibly a phobia disorder. Do you feel uneasy and nervous about life in general, and can’t quite explain why? You might have generalized anxiety disorder.

There are many ways anxiety can present pathologically, and in much more severe ways than I’ve mentioned. Sometimes anxiety can have accompanying physical symptoms such as dizziness, chest pain, headaches, neck tension, upset stomach, ear ringing, burning skin, nausea, shortness of breath, electric shock feeling, shooting pains, heart palpitations, muscle weakness, inability to rest, and sleep problems.

So what can you do if you are one of the 18.1% of adults affected by anxiety? Keep reading…

Shauna’s Top 3 Tips for Managing Anxiety

1. Put Down the Caffeine

Whaaaa? You want me to fork over this tasty latte? Shauna, you’ve got to be kidding me. I love soda pop! I don’t want to give up my tea!

Yes, I know you love caffeine, in all its tasty forms. (It hides in food, too, you know. Like in that delicious chocolate candy bar sitting on your desk.)

Caffeine is a drug. More specifically, it’s a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant. It calls to action your “fight or flight” sympathetic nervous system — the part of the CNS that’s responsible for the ability to run from the proverbial saber-toothed tiger. (Though these days that “saber-toothed tiger” is any number of mental stressors caused by living in our fast-paced, perfection-focused culture.) Yes, caffeine can increase your mental alertness, but it’s doing that at the cost of your mental health (and likely your sleep habits, too–which could also be exacerbating your anxiety).

If you are suffering from anxiety, caffeine will make it worse. Caffeine can cause heart palpitations and “the jitters” even in people without an anxiety disorder. But when you combine it with an already-existing anxiety disorder, you are pouring gas onto an open flame.

2. Embrace Meditation

You’ve seen the research, I’m sure. Meditation is all the rage these days! I know you don’t want to be a follower, but there is a reason so many swear by this ancient practice.

Meditation is practice for your parasympathetic nervous system.

My para-what?

Your parasympathetic nervous system is your “rest and digest” system. It’s the system that works opposite that “fight or flight” sympathetic nervous system we talked about in #1. The parasympathetic nervous system is your natural ability to calm down. In our stressful lives, it has become really difficult to take a step back and simply be calm. This is why we need to “build the muscle” of our parasympathetic nervous system… quite literally, as meditation, over time, physically restructures your brain.

Think of your brain like a record. The needle rests within the record’s already-created grooves and plays us sound as a result. Your brain is like that record, and your neural pathways are the grooves. Your brain is constantly restructuring itself based on your experiences, and when you do something over and over again, the “groove” of that pathway becomes “deeper” or more defined, and as a result it is easier for your brain to “play the track” so to speak.

When you meditate daily, this is what you are doing. You are practicing calm so that when you need to make yourself calm, you already have those neural structures in place to help your efforts. Meditation is nature’s chill pill.

So how do you meditate?

Sit down, close your eyes, and breathe. That’s your job when you’re meditating. Just breathe. Watch your breathing. Notice your breathing. Are you breathing in? Good. Are you breathing out? Perfect, you’re doing it! (I get the image of Dory in Finding Nemo: “just keep breathing, just keep breathing.”)

While you’re trying to pay attention to your breath, everything else on your mind will try to get in the way. Do you hear all of that chatter? Interesting, isn’t it? Our minds are so full of chatter. Develop a curiosity for your mind chatter. What is that chatter saying? If something comes up while you are meditating, listen to what it is, let it go, and go back to watching your breath.

Just do the best you can. Let go of your attachment to a clear mind during meditation. It could take a lifetime of practice to get there. Instead, just know that by sitting your butt down for 10 minutes a day, you are doing your “calm reps”… like lifting weights at a gym. That is your goal. To breathe, calmly, for 10 minutes. You can do it!

3. Regular Acupuncture

I’m an acupuncturist, so you must have known this was coming! I have seen firsthand, time and time again, that acupuncture works wonders for anxiety sufferers. So commonly after a treatment — of any ailment — patients will get up from the table saying, “ah, that was so relaxing!”

Acupuncture helps anxiety for a few reasons.

First off, when you are suffering from an anxiety disorder, your body is most certainly out of balance! Acupuncture works to use your body’s own healing mechanisms to heal. Your body is amazing, and it wants to heal. When I place acupuncture needles during an acupuncture treatment, I am working with your body’s specific pattern of disharmony to guide it back toward a balanced state.

Second, remember all that I said above about meditation? Acupuncture helps to build up this parasympathetic “muscle” as well, allowing you to access a relaxed state more easily on your own outside of the treatment room. This is one reason why anxiety relief is often a common “side effect” of being treated (for any ailment) with acupuncture. By generally inducing a relaxation response, we are helping your body create a “muscle memory” for relaxation. Nice side effect, huh?

If you are suffering from anxiety, and are looking for an acupuncturist in Spokane, Washington… look no further! Schedule your first appointment today by calling 509-535-4055, or by visiting my appointment scheduler here: Appointments.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to reach out if you have any questions:

lilaccityacupuncture@gmail.com

Lilac City Acupuncture PLLC
104 S Freya St STE 208
Yellow Flag Building
Spokane, WA 99202

This article was written by Shauna Douglass, EAMP, L.Ac. in Spokane, WA.

Sources:

http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/any-anxiety-disorder-among-adults.shtml

http://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20164571

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/use-your-mind-change-your-brain/201305/is-your-brain-meditation

http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/10758845

http://aim.bmj.com/content/33/2/98.short