Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Summertime, and the Living is. . .


It took a while for summer to be recognizable here in my home state of Virginia, but it's here now! We've had several days over 100 degrees, and many more close to it. The unusually low humidity we've enjoyed is also a thing of the past.

I once suffered with the heat much more than I do since I became a student of Chinese medicine. Here are some of the things I've learned that help me and my patients deal with the heat and make the hot weather more enjoyable.

Summertime has its own special challenges according to Chinese medicine. Here are a few of the problems that can be more pronounced in the summer:

  1. Heat: If this point doesn't seem like we're dipping into genius mode, I understand. The tricky thing is, Chinese medicine give summer two halves--early summer, where heat and dryness can be problems, and late summer, where heat and humidity are issues. Some people do better in one half than the other.  Besides the obvious problems of "feeling hot," heat has many other effects. You may become more sensitive to spicy food, less tolerant of loud noises or crowds, or have more aches and pains. The pain will typically be more on the upper body than the lower body, and usually will be worse in the damp late summer for most people. Those with breathing problems or heart trouble will also be more at risk at this time.
  2. Anxiety: In Chinese medicine, your heart and small intestine channels and organs are responsible for clear thinking, speaking, gladness, and play a big roll in water metabolism. Anxiety is associated with Heart issues. While your physical heart muscle may be completely healthy, if you have chronic anxiety you have some issue with the functions your "Heart System" is supposed to manage. Because  Heart Energy is most easily affected by hot summer weather, you may have more anxiety in the summer, even if the events in your life don't change or even if they improve. If you feel your anxiety increase this time of year, remember that it is probably a temporary phenomenon, and by autumn symptoms may improve.
  3. Cold Food: Many people probably scratch their heads over this one. Summer is a time that abounds with cold food--salads, ice cream, iced drinks, watermelon, potato salad--you name it and it gets served cold in the summer. While it seems sensible to eat and drink cold things when it's hot to cool down, in reality it can be bad for you. Chinese medicine sees your stomach as a soup pot, always breaking down food so you have a ready source of energy. If you've ever had soup simmering on the stove and put in some frozed vegetables, you know what happens when cold things go into a hot liquid. The liquid cools and has to come back up to temperature. When your stomach has to take extra energy to heat food or to break down raw food, the energy is not available to the rest of your body. If you are in vibrant health and full of healthy energy, you may not notice this pull. But if you have any health problem, most especially fatigue, digestive issues, or chronic pain, cold or raw food is draining your resources to deal with the health condition.
Treatment: Now that you see all the problems that summer can cause, how do you treat them? To treat heat problems with diet, first eliminate cold or raw food from your diet, and add foods that have cooling properties instead. Such foods include leafy greens, cucumbers, mung beans or black-eyed peas (without spicy flavorings), watermelon (at room temperature or warmer), tart berries, cherries, peaches, and pears, millet or quinoa, and  green, mint, or chamomile tea. Try to avoid large amounts of alcohol, fried foods, grilled foods, or just large portions in general.

Use common sense. When it's sweltering outside, get plenty of water, and limit your most strenuous activities to the cooler parts of the day.

Take steps to address worry and negative thinking. If you have a chronic health problem, be sure to take any necessary steps for extra self-care that you need.

Practicing deep breathing and avoiding large amounts of sugar and caffeine can help anxiety symptoms. If you have serious anxiety symptoms that affect your ability to function, seek counseling and medical help. Many therapists offer great strategies to deal with anxiety, and using them will help you avoid medication or need as little as possible to deal with your problem. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can be helpful in treating anxiety when offered by a competent licensed acupuncturist.

Summer is a time for sun, fun, and friends. Use these tips to have the best summer you can! If you have any questions, feel free to email or comment. And if you have any tips for beating the heat, please put them in the comments!

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