Since the holiday season is over and winter has finally arrived with single digit temperatures and snow here in the Big Apple, I have noticed many patients reporting not only common cold and respiratory illnesses, but feeling “blue”. This doesn’t surprise me, given the shorter daylight hours and the dismal climate. Some patients are also attributing holiday-related stress with their outlook. Again, no surprise. Holidays pose a unique combination of stress for some folks, whether due to family dynamics, financial strain or unsatisfying life assessments brought on by a new calendar year. Overeating and drinking- always in abundance during holidays- and irregular schedules of sleeping and working can lead to feeling off-balance. Leftover food and alcohol can lead to poor choices just at the stage when you want to start afresh and begin the year with healthier habits. It is hard to find the motivation to exercise and eat right when you’ve been on an unhealthy trajectory for several weeks and when it’s below freezing outside. All in all, this time of year is a challenge for many.
In Chinese medicine, wintertime is associated with the kidneys and kidney qi (energy). The kidneys have a special relationship with the bones, the feeling of fear, the ears, the hair, salty flavor, and dark blue color. They store the body’s energy and play a major role in health and longevity. The kidneys are vulnerable during wintertime and special attention should be paid to preserving and nurturing this aspect of the body right now when it’s cold and dark. Irregular or insufficient sleep, prolonged stress, dehydration, excessive caffeine, overindulgent “partying” and overwork can deplete the body and specifically the kidney qi. This in turn may affect the rest of the internal organs and the harmony between them, causing imbalance in the body. This eventually may lead to disease.
While it is difficult to maintain discipline, this season presents an opportunity and can be viewed in a positive light: use this as a period of reflection. Take the time to look inward, take stock and set realistic, healthy goals for both the year and the duration of the winter. Some find it helpful to instead of working out intensively, reduce activity a bit and try a gentler form of exercise- like yoga, for instance. If you find it difficult to start or to keep up the regimen, enroll a friend or partner in your workout to keep to a schedule, or sign up for a class you’re sure to attend. Leave a thermos on your desk or in a visible area to remind yourself to re-hydrate, and by all means, throw out leftovers and junk from the holidays! Sugar and glucose levels may be the root cause of your lethargy, so avoid refined sugar at all cost. If you’ve gotten into the habit of staying up late, set an alarm that indicates when it’s time to get ready for bed. Have your vitamin D level checked by your doctor to make sure it is adequate. You may have to supplement during these sunlight-deprived days.
Remember, I am here to help, so if you feel unmotivated or depressed and/or have trouble curbing your cravings, please bring it to my attention and I can address it through acupuncture. Each season affects the body differently and poses different challenges. Don’t neglect your health during winter hibernation.