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The Heart is the True Mind: Getting to the Root of Seasonal Depression

Harnessing traditional Chinese medicine to combat the winter blues

Sara Russell


Doctor LeTa Jussila, a Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine and national wellness expert, was working in advertising in San Francisco when she got the call that her sister had three, maybe six, months to live with non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. 

So she packed up her bags, moved east back home, and, as she says, got scrappy: “I didn't know anything. So I discovered herbal medicine, making her really nasty bitter teas to drink in the morning. I discovered food as medicine. I did a macrobiotic approach with her. We discovered energy medicine. We discovered feng shui. For instance, her bed was actually over a river. And so the energy was always flowing so she never got deep rest…And I'm happy to say that I'm a big part of why she was alive.” 

Along this journey, Jussila made a commitment: “I realized I need to do something to remind people, the power that made the body can heal the body, how much your spirit, your will, partakes in the physical. And never let anybody, whatever institution wearing a white lab coat says about you, don't let that be absolute truth.”

What is Chinese Medicine and How Can It Help During the Winter?

Utilizing the wisdom of Chinese Medicine, Jussila gets to the root of ailments rather than simply treating symptoms. To do so, she keeps in mind that every human being is unique and sacred, and we each sleep, eat, digest, and process the world around us slightly differently.

Context matters. In the Northern Hemisphere, we’re currently entering the darkest time of year. The cold and damp bring along the winter blues, and Jussila offers a simple definition from Chinese Medicine for such depression: energy not moving.

There is a multitude of ways our energy becomes stagnant: too much worry, not enough rest, poor nutrition, loneliness, and isolation. We neglect our basics, such as getting enough sun, sleep and nourishing food.

But if this year has felt particularly challenging, you’re not alone. Jussila offers insight from Chinese Astrology. She notes, “This is a black yin water rabbit [year]...This is the most yin, still time that you will get in decades. And we have until February 10th. It's uncomfortable to sit in the darkness and the stillness.” That’s both literal and figurative: not only is it darker earlier outside, but internally, we also have parts of ourselves that are unconscious or neglected that can benefit from more attuned presence.

With all the physical, emotional, and mental discomfort, it’s easy to look for quick but not necessarily sustainable solutions. Jussila advises, “[Make] sure that we don't have that western quick fix single-use approach to our health: you know these bodies, they're just housing our soul for however long we're here, and I feel like we don't know how to be at home in our own body. That's why we do things to tune out instead of tune in.”

Depression Stems from Disconnection, According to Jussila

Jussila emphasizes the importance of our practices helping us drop into connection rather than distraction. She uplifts some favorite pillars of mental hygiene, such as meditation, breathwork, movement practices like qigong, and, yes, psychedelics. 

She notes, “Depression, seasonal depression, any sort of mood issue is disconnection. And this is why microdosing is so popular and hopefully going to become even more popular because it actually funnels through the heart meridian. So it's heart connection, these mushrooms. And once you are connected to yourself and like yourself, then you have an opportunity to be satisfied in any relationship, in any connection.”

She encourages people who are feeling out of balance to first make a commitment to themselves, to invest time and energy into our peace and joy. She offers self-inquiry such as, “‘Do I need to move my energy or do I need to rest’? Because both of those will give you energy. ‘Do I need to be by myself? Do I need to connect?’ There's this internal dialogue and curiosity that I like to remind people: are you fully participating in your life? So the idea is, ‘Can I be at home and have every cell be on the same team? Can I be in alignment and be in integrity?’...You have to live with yourself. And if [you’re] willing to heal and let go and forgive in all the places around the trauma that we as humans experience as just part of being human, if you're ready to then lighten up and continue to dance and celebrate and be in community, then we are ready for you to do that.”

That doesn’t mean doing something particularly dramatic or hard. Jussila suggests asking yourself, “What is the path of least resistance? What’s the next right thing you can do?” That might mean taking a breath, moving your body, turning your face to the sun, or connecting with a loved one.

Can Plant Medicine Help Us Reconnect? 

And if you need a little extra support? Let nature be your guide. Jussila says, “Let's look around Mother Earth. Cannabis is growing everywhere. Fungus, mushrooms are growing everywhere. Mother Earth has given us this medicine and the responsibility. This goes back to you being in your power and connected to your body. It's like, what medicine do you need in this moment? It might be ashwagandha. It might be licorice. So it doesn't have to necessarily be cannabis or psilocybin, but I will say that what we know about the brain making cannabinoids, what we know about what psilocybin does, it's like, yes, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that 90% of the people living on this planet, I recommend cannabinoids and terpenes in some realm, and dosage and frequency and microdosing. It is, it has been, one of the fastest ways for people to feel connected, for people to feel joy and happiness.”

Regardless of what your preferred method of support is, don’t wait to get help.  Jussila recommends, “If people…go down the path of self-discovery, [say], “Hey, I feel a little low in my mood, what can I do to make sure that I don't get too off track,” because we know prevention, staying participatory instead of waiting for it to feel like you're stuck and alone and frozen. And it takes a lot more to get the energy moving at that point and financially as well.”

As we shift seasonally, check in with yourself: what does your winter body need? It’s probably different than your summer self. Thanks to Doctor LeTa you have a few more tools to be ready so winter doesn’t get you down.

Sara Russell is the host of MUD\WTR's Trends w/ Benefits podcast.

Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

Listen to More: Mental Health Is a Mosaic and Your Treatment Should Be Too

Read More: 5 Ways to Slow Down During the Holidays

Read More: Darkness Retreats: A Sensory Deprivation Voyage into Self-Discovery

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