Editor's note: Today on the blog, we've asked Lindsey Thompson, an East Asian medical practitioner, to describe how everyday, healthy foods can help you decrease the heightened mood swings that often accompany spring. Lindsey manages an acupuncture clinic in Walla Walla, Washington, and yes, that is Anthony's hometown. This talented woman is our sister-in-law; she's married to Anthony's younger brother, Thomas. Here's Lindsey.
Early spring is known for remarkable shifts in weather. One minute it could be a brilliant, sunny day, and a moment later, winds drive in a hail storm that lasts for 20 minutes. Some spring days will take you on an adventure through all four seasons in a 24-hour cycle. This is the energy of early spring, and our emotions may follow a similar pattern of extraordinary mood swings during this season.
The effort it takes for our bodies to move from the inward energies of autumn and winter into the more expansive, outward energies of spring and summer are intense - and they can take our bodies for a bit of a jerky ride. You can observe this in the early springtime bulbs and plants this time of year. You may even see it in the people around you. You might see more road rage and more impatience in check-out lines, at coffee shops, and with people on the phone.
Most of us see the obvious signs in our emotions. Some might see changes in digestion. Others might experience wandering joint pain, and injuries to the tendons and ligaments sometimes get temporarily worse in early spring. For many people, seasonal allergies return.
In East Asian Medicine, we look at nutritional ways of ameliorating the effects of spring on the body.
Our emotions can run the gamut quite quickly from the more expansive and rising emotions of anger, irritation, frustration, and anxiety, to the sinking emotions of feeling melancholy, or even a bit depressed.
In spring, these emotions can sometimes seem out of place. Often the rising emotions of anger, irritation, and anxiety seem like overreactions, while the sinking emotions seem to come on without rhyme or reason. If this is the case, then you are partially feeling the natural energies of early spring. If the mood swings have tall peaks and valleys, this is often an indicator that your liver and gallbladder channels need a little extra help, and that can come from your food.
The Power of Sweet and Sour
When emotions are of the rising, expansive nature, it is important to try to use food to anchor the energy of the body, and specifically, the liver. Foods that soothe the liver and consolidate its energy are equally helpful.
The flavor that soothes the liver is sweet - not the sweetness of refined sugar, pastries, and candy, but the sweetness found in root vegetables and whole grains. If you chew whole grains long enough, you’ll notice a natural sweetness that gets released in your mouth.
Root vegetables also help anchor the energy of the liver due to the simple fact that they grew deeply in the ground. Part of looking at Chinese nutrition is learning to see the metaphor in how the plant grew, to more accurately see how it influences the energy of the body.
Sour flavors can also aid in consolidating the energy of the liver back into the organ itself.
To put all of this together: On days or weeks when you're subject to an increase in irritability, frustration, or anxiety, look at combining roasted or steamed root vegetables with a sour flavor. Squeeze a lime over roasted sweet potatoes. Toss steamed beets with oil and your favorite vinegar. Consider including drinking vinegars, also known as 'shrubs,' or hibiscus tea into your daily routine to draw on more of the sour flavors.
Greens and Herbs to Lift You Up
When our emotions are sinking in nature, we need to do the opposite. To counteract the emotions of feeling melancholy, weighed down, or slightly depressed, eat baby greens, sprouts, and the tiny carrots or beets that you thin out of the garden. These fresh baby greens are full of the energy and vitality of the young plants reaching upwards toward the sun. The energy in these greens is naturally lifting.
It's also important to use aromatic culinary herbs, as well as citrus, which can help move energy through the body. You might think about how to use spices like rosemary, basil, thyme, mint, lemon, orange and lime zest, and other energizers.
Simply making a salad with baby greens and roasted or pan-fried veggies, plus a homemade dressing with olive oil, tarragon, pepper, and lemon zest - will blend the rising nature of the baby greens, with the aromatics of the herbs in the dressing. You’ll further protect your digestion by adding some cooked vegetables to the salad, and voila, you have a meal or side dish that helps lift you up.
If you eat meat, consider rubbing chicken breasts or other meat with a mixture of aromatic spices before pan frying, roasting, or baking.
If you're near the Walla Walla area, you can reach out to me and my fellow practitioners for acupuncture and nutritional guidance at Thompson Family Acupuncture. If you would like to continue learning from me, check out our virtual class schedule here - you can take the classes from anywhere. I am also the author of a video series available online called Ancient Roots: What Chinese Medicine Can Teach Us About Our Diets.
Lindsey Thompson holds a master's in acupuncture and East Asian medicine from the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine (OCOM) in Portland, OR, with extra training in the Dr. Shen Pulse Analysis system, an 18-month internship in Five Element Acupuncture, and advanced cupping training from the International Cupping Therapy Association. After graduating from OCOM in 2012, Lindsey volunteered with the Acupuncture Relief Project in Nepal to hone her clinical skills at their high-volume clinic in rural Nepal.