Every fall I wonder if I’m depressed. I have suffered from depression off and on throughout my life, and know all too well what it feels like. Here’s what happens: I don’t want to go anywhere. Time alone seems far more precious than connecting with friends. I want to sleep more. Sometimes I feel sad for no particular reason. Sitting on the couch with a steaming mug of tea and a cat feels better than going for a hike. I want every meal to involve sweet potatoes. Knowing the signs, I inquire within: should I be worried?
Then I remember that it’s totally natural to feel this way. In Chinese Medicine, our bodies and minds are connected to the cycles of nature. Autumn is the transition season from the yang of summer to the yin of winter. To clarify the terms: Yang means active, hot, moving, and external: in the summer, it’s hot, the days are long and many of us are busy, active, and non-stop social. Then the season shifts to autumn, and the world gets colder and darker, bringing with it a natural shift towards yin: a drawing inward, wanting rest and stillness. And chai. And the aforementioned sweet potatoes.
If you don’t follow the cycles of the seasons, you set yourself up for disease. So here are 5 tips for fall.
- Let yourself rest more than you think you “should.” You might well need more rest to fight off the colds and flus which start flying around this time of year. Greet your need for rest with compassion rather than judgment.
- Switch up your diet to include more cooked vegetables, soups, stews, proteiny grains like quinoa and millet, and meat if you’re so inclined. This time of year we want to build the body’s yin: that which moistens and nourishes to prevent things like dry skin, dry lips and throat, dry cough, dry stools, — pretty obvious forms of dryness, but also those less obvious — muscle and joint stiffness, insomnia, hot flashes, the ability to feel calm. Protein tends to be warming and helps to build the body and fortify it for winter. Root vegetables like winter squashes and sweet potatoes can be especially helpful for nourishing yin, feeling grounded, and ready for winter. Use gentle warming, pungent spices like fresh ginger, cardamom, leeks, and garlic to take the chill off. Eat fewer salads and more sautéed veggies: white mushrooms, bok choy , cabbage, radishes, leeks and cauliflower, are especially appropriate. Apples and pears (and dairy products if you’re good at digesting them) can help moisten the Lungs. You’ll notice many of these fruits and veggies are white, the color that corresponds with the organs of the Lungs and Large Intestine.
- Don’t freak out if you’re feeling melancholy – the dying of the harvest, the waning of the vibrant fullness of summer involves a sense of loss, an emotional pulling downward and inward, which can feel like sadness. Feel it and let it flow through you. It’ll pass. And if it doesn’t, consider if there’s anything you haven’t let yourself grieve. If there is, allow it to flow through you so it can go on its way. Unresolved grief can inhibit the immune system – it pulls the lung qi inward, and we need the lung qi to power the protective qi on the surface of the body to keep pathogens at bay.
- Get exercise. Those days when I just find myself tearful, exercise never fails to shift me out of it.
- Do some qi gong for the Lungs. Stand with your feet a comfortable shoulder distance apart. Inhale, and float your arms up and out to the sides, shoulder height. Exhale and bring them forward, crossing your arms in front of your chest. Inhale and expand the chest, opening the arms to either side as in the picture below as though you’re shooting a bow and arrow: left hand extends the index finger and thumb to lengthen the Lung and Large Intestine meridians, right hand makes a fist at shoulder height. Hold the breath. Then exhale and bring your arms in front of your chest. Repeat three times per side. This exercise can help with immunity, any breathing issues, and letting go of grief.
I was inspired to write this post because a lot of folks I’ve been seeing in clinic are judging the heck out of themselves for wanting to slow down, or for suddenly finding themselves grieving over the loss of loved one. Not only are you not alone, it’s perfectly natural. Not only is it natural, it is wise.