Winter Anxiety and Tips for winter vitality

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 In Chinese Medicine, the five elements offer invaluable insights into our emotions and our health.

 

The cold, dark days of winter are associated with the Water Element. This is a good time to stay at home more, keeping warm and cosy, getting more rest and more sleep. If we do this – rather than wrestle the long dark evenings staying up late under bright artificial light, or by socialising till the early hours – we are actively sowing and nurturing the seeds for good health and vitality in spring.

Kidneys and bladder

Each of the five elements is associated with particular organs in the body, and Water is associated with the kidneys and bladder. Supporting our kidneys through a healthy diet, exercise and adequate rest is essential if we want to remain robust. The kidneys are also linked to the adrenals.

When we're running on empty, existing on nervous energy only, we are exhausting our kidneys. This is when we need to allow ourselves time to unwind, slow down, and tune in with our body's needs. If we ignore our body’s natural stress signals, we're storing up trouble for later – often resulting in burnout, which manifests as all sorts of stress-related conditions and/or panic attacks.

Physical symptoms of depleted kidney energy include lower back ache, weak joints (especially knees) and thinning hair. When we get the balance right, and keep our kidneys functioning optimally, life feels more effortless.

Fear

 

Water is also associated with the emotion of fear and anxiety. If we remain in a state of anxiousness, constantly worrying about our lives in general, about safety, our loved ones, health issues, relationships, work and especially finances, we are also taxing our kidneys; and when they're weakened, we become even more fearful, more anxious, perpetuating a negative cycle.

It is easy to become caught up in thinking the worst or worrying about the future. Fear is usually fuelled by feelings of not being comfortable with the unknown, or anticipation of reoccurrence of a negative experience or memory, which depletes our energy.

The more energy we conserve, the less anxious and fearful we feel. Learning to accept the unknown and realising that the future only ever remains an abstract idea, and that the present is all we have, can also soften our immediate anxiety.

The flip side of anxiety is the adrenaline rush that many people end up thriving on, until they don’t, and their adrenal glands get depleted…Our western society encourages us to believe that keeping ultra-busy, working out excessively, putting in long work hours and/or climbing the work ladder, perpetual socialising, consuming too much alcohol and rushing around at weekends is “making the most out of life” …. The underlying message here is to achieve as much as possible before we get old and ill… However, we’re actually accelerating the ageing and ailing process! The body can't keep it up indefinitely.

Some early signs of burnout are exhaustion, lack of focus, panic attacks, overwhelm, angry outbursts, emotional meltdowns, hot flushes, insomnia and an inability to sit still and do nothing. So if you don't want to pay later for pushing the limits now, it is time to reassess your lifestyle and rein in. Especially as that adrenaline rush is highly addictive!

How to allay your fears and anxiety

 

When you feel fear or anxiety taking hold, pause, go within, breathe deeply with longer exhales than inhales, and bring yourself back to what you know to be true, in stillness - this accesses your inner wisdom. While contemplating, reassess all areas of your life and aim to slow down, curb social life for a while, prioritise sleep, lie around at weekends, relax and do nothing sometimes, and read… Try different meditations until you find one that works for you. Even with young children, adding five minutes of focusing on your breathing while doing house chores will make a difference. And enjoy the process!

Qi Gong exercise to strengthen your kidney energy

 

You can do this either standing or sitting upright but relaxed on a chair.

-      Find the kidney area below your ribs and above your waist on either side of the spine and rub each side with soft fists until the area feels warm.

-      Direct a smile at your kidneys – this may sound bonkers, but it’s a powerful technique! It’s a form of visualisation, which helps send energy and blood to the area.

-      Next, envisage your kidneys bathed in an inky blue-black colour. Breathe in this colour and picture the area filling up with it. Pause. Then, on the out-breath, fill it further, so the inky blackness penetrates even deeper into your kidneys. Do this several times during each session.

This whole area should feel warmer and more alive now. With enough regular practice, you will feel increasingly energised. And calmer. And more centred.

Winter lifestyle tweaks

 

Drink more water and herbal teas. In winter, eat more soups and stews and warm foods, especially root vegetables and winter greens, using slow-cooking methods. Whole grains, beans and kidney-coloured foods are beneficial too. Rest and sleep more. Cut down on refined sugars, caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes, and eat fewer cold, raw foods.

Signs on your face

 

The kidneys are reflected on the chin and under the eyes. Dark eye circles indicate dehydration and exhaustion; puffiness means fluid retention. A red chin shows internal heat, another sign that it would help to cut down on caffeine, alcohol and spicy foods for a while. If we rest and nourish ourselves well in winter, when the light and warmth return in spring, we are ready to be expansive again, as the dynamic, creative Wood element takes over.

 

By Saffron Ellidge

Five Element Constitutional Acupuncture, by Angela Hicks, John Hicks and Peter Mole

Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

Recipes for Self-Healing by Daverick Leggett

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