If twinkling fairy lights, Michael Bublé and the thought of festive socialising were the only things getting you through winter so far, we’d take a punt and say that by now you’re feeling pretty low. While some people love snuggling up in front of a fire, couldn’t give two hoots that it gets dark by midafternoon and embrace winter walks and Sunday roasts, others can’t stand it. But that’s okay because, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, most of us function better in one season than another, which is good news if you thought it was just a case of January blues that was getting you into a grump.
It isn’t just a winter thing either because get this: not everyone likes summer. While one person might lap up sunshine, for someone who is “yin” deficient (the body’s natural ability to cool itself) or has “dampness” in the body (usually caused by sluggish digestion), dealing with heat, humidity and dry environments could send them into mental disarray and trigger spots, inflammation and coughs (that’s you if you’re prone to “summer colds”).
“The principles of five element acupuncture fit perfectly here,” explains Barbara Mariposa, doctor, well-being mentor and author of The Mindfulness Playbook. “Nature is about cycles that are divided into spring, summer, late summer, autumn and winter. Each season has its own quality, energy and emotional component, and some people belong more in one season than another. Health is about balance—being able to adjust and feel at home in all seasons. The better we understand ourselves, the easier this is.”
And woe betide if you’re not comfortable in the season you’re in because it could lead to low immunity and an increased risk of cold, flu, anxiety, depression and a general lethargy (and you thought it was a comedown from all those mince pies and mulled wine). Keep scrolling to find out how you can feel your best whatever the season.
WHAT'S YOUR SEASON?
The quickest way to discover your dominant season is to ask yourself when you’re most at ease. Your answer should be pretty instantaneous. But for a TCM confirmation, your best bet is to check your tongue, as this will showcase any warning signs and give an indication of what’s going on internally at that specific time of year. We’ve got a fully comprehensive breakdown on tongue reading here, should you need it.
There are also specific traits to monitor, says Mariposa. “Autumn people tend to look for perfection and be overcritical; winter people may prefer to keep to themselves and if out of balance, take huge risks to see if they can survive; late-summer people may find they exert energy taking care of others but feel resentful about it and spring people often get impatient and railroad their ideas rather than listen.”
It’s also worth studying the natural cycle of the seasons. “Spring is about new growth, upwards energy, hope and future plans. Summer is about reaching out, communicating, energy spreading outwards and love. Late summer is when flowers produce fruits, so it becomes a time for nurturing, caring and self-care. Autumn is a time of downward turn, falling leaves and a sense of loss, while winter is about survival, shutting down and conserving energy both physically and emotionally,” continues Mariposa.
Taking all this into account, it’s why summer souls might find winter hard because they’re less likely to have energy for “spreading outwards” (read sharing the love and socialising) to do this later in the year. If you hate spring (like one colleague), it might be because the frustration caused by your hay fever is preventing you from celebrating the new energy and growth the season is known for. Similarly a person who belongs in spring and thrives in that momentum of growth might feel stilted and frustrated by the autumn lull and lack of progress. The solution? Stock up your internal resources during the months you feel great, so you can tune it down at other times, allowing yourself to take it slower and use it as a period of reflection. The key is to accept your natural cycle.
HOW TO GET THROUGH YOUR LEAST FAVOURITE SEASON
Prepping for your season starts on your plate. If you eat properly, your defence barriers and immunity will thrive, whether you like the weather outside or not. A vitamin D supplement is a no-brainer, but foods containing vitamin C and zinc are another good place to start. Berries, peppers, broccoli, kale, spinach, chickpeas, cashew nuts and pumpkin seeds will all make a difference to your mood. Mushrooms are another winner, especially reishi and shitake varieties, as they contain beta glucans that help to rebalance the immune system and stave off potential infections. For example, if you already suffer from dampness inside the body, when you’re cold, it could cause condensation in your nose and breed viruses. Add fungi to your food though, and you might be able to skirt those sneezes.
Echinacea and andrographis are two other go-tos if you’re starting to feel worse for wear. Victoria Kearns, medical herbalist, says if you take a high strength of both at the first signs of a cold, you should be able to stop it in its tracks, as they’re antimicrobial and antiviral. This basically means that they annihilate any bacteria that get in their way, making it near impossible for the germs to enter your respiratory system.
Finally, if you’re feeling a bit phlegmy already, elderberry is the answer. “It’s been found to deactivate an enzyme that flu viruses use to spread around the body,” explains Katie Pande, herbal advisor at Pukka Herbs. “You can take it as a supplement in liquid form, and because it’s also a natural source of vitamin C, it will naturally strengthen your immune system.”
Herbs are a good crutch if you’re feeling emotionally drained and dysfunctional.
Ginseng is especially uplifting if you feel sluggish and low during the colder months, while cooling herbs like sage and ziziphus (from the buckthorn family) should be turned to if you’re a winter lover and hot-weather hater, as they will maintain that internal balance and prevent you feeling hot, bothered and irritable. No tantrums here then.
When it comes to exercising throughout the year, consistency is key, but listen to your body and be aware of how you’re feeling. If you like running in summer but can’t face going outside in the wet and cold, don’t force yourself to. “Try a HIIT class or hot yoga session to raise your core body temperature,” suggests Joe Spraggan, head trainer at F45. “Or if you prefer team sports outside, look for a class inside that has been designed with the same community ethos and team building in mind.”
Similarly, if you feel lethargic exercising with the sun beating down on you, swap excessive cardio workouts for Pilates, yoga or even regular walking sessions where you can conserve your energy for the seasons ahead. You’ll still be oxygenating your tissues, burning fat and boosting endorphin levels, but you just won’t be dripping with sweat and feeling deflated before you’ve even started.
Want to know what exercises you should be trying in 2018? We’ve rounded them up in one easy bundle.