“My canary has circles under its eyes”

September 29th, 2013
Courtesy Denise Taormina

Courtesy Denise Taormina



This fun and popular tune[1] has been covered countless times over the years and mentions something we are all familiar with even if it uses an unlikely subject as an example.



What do circles under the eyes mean?


Dark circles under eyes


We often associate dark circles under out eyes with tiredness or exhaustion. We may notice that a few poor night’s sleep can leave us looking aged and tired in this area of the face.


Western medicine often tries to refute that there is any correlation between these things. The Mayo clinic for example, while also refuting it, then goes on to list ‘lifestyle factors’ like physical and emotional stress with poor recovery as contributing factors. To the rest of us that sounds suspiciously like a lack of rest.


Of course there may be localized factors like allergies, eczema, pigmentation irregularities, or physical irritation from rubbing the area (perhaps because we, ahem, need more sleep?). Most of the technical explanations focus on describing what has happened but not why.


Wrinkles and creases are a somewhat separate issue and are linked to aging as our natural collagen stores break down.


The energy/qi perspective


Face diagnosis charts in both traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine show the area below as relating to the kidney/adrenal gland system – a part of the water element. The water element represents our deepest reserves. The quality of rest, renewal and regeneration.


Consider our adrenal system as our battery pack that needs to be kept charged. It is ready to back up our normal energy sources that we get from food, water and rest, sunshine and love, joy and inspiration. If however these are in short supply and we are feeling overburdened with stress then our backup batteries release their charge to make up the short fall.


leaky bucket


So far so good, but what if we are using our energy inefficiently and starting to ‘go into the red’ energy-wise? Our ability to recover and renew our energy supplies fails and we find ourselves feeling tired all the time. Our water reserves feel all but dried up as we wander helplessly in a desert of our own making.



Hormone soup


The negative spiral continues as other hormones become imbalanced that effect our sleep cycles and addiction/reward centers. Let us have a brief look at the main hormones involved:


Melatonin: The ‘darkness hormone’. So called because of its increased production in low light and slowing/ceasing production when light returns. Melatonin regulates our circadian rhythms (our day/night cycles) so we feel sleepy at night and alert in the day. Therefore it is important that we sleep in as dark a room as possible in order to facilitate adequate melatonin production.


Stress hormones: The adrenal glands secrete our stress and (some) sex hormones like cortisol, adrenaline, nor-adrenaline, testosterone and so on. These are primarily geared to our survival responses. Feeling like we are struggling to survive is hardly conclusive to relaxation and rest. Quite the opposite, our body is trying to keep us awake and alert.


Human growth hormone (HGH): The ‘youth hormone’. While this helps with alertness, our immune system, battles free radicals that age us, increases bone density, tones our muscles and reduces fat deposits, increases endurance and sexual performance and so on it requires healthy habits like enough rest and intense, short bursts of exercise to be at optimal levels.


Dopamine: A neurotransmitter also linked to our survival as it is involved in identifying, prioritizing and anticipating pleasurable outcomes that will benefit us. Of course it can also sabotage our energy if we let it lead us into addictive states endlessly burning energy we don’t have for pleasures that don’t last.



Family matters


The kidney/adrenal energy is linked not only to our individual survival but the collective one of our genetic family. It is not uncommon for countries that have experienced famine over several generations of their history often have dark shadows around their eyes regardless of age and health. India is one example of that.


This is also true of areas that have low levels of specific antioxidant nutrients in the soil like selenium can also exhibit this ‘look’. The Middle East is an example of this.


In these cases such an appearance is more an imprint of the collective history and does not necessarily mean the individual is experiencing any of the issues we are discussing here.



Recovery and regeneration



For the rest of us what can we do about dark circles or shadows under our eyes? Often, simply cutting down on activities that stress us and increasing our sleep and rest periods is enough to alleviate mild symptoms. We can tell because we can easily see a correlation between the two for ourselves in the mirror.


More chronic discoloration is more likely to show a risk of ‘burnout’. We have become used to feeling stressed without being aware of it and are not listening to the warning signs. Our precious water energy is pouring down the drain.





Overstimulation of our central nervous system at the expense of the physical body:


  • Constant squinting into the glare of a computer screen or smartphone not only strains the eyes, it keeps our central nervous system in an exited state. The light from the screen (even in an otherwise dark room) stops melatonin production and sabotages our ability to rest and sleep deeply. Only using the eyes focusing muscles for short, tunnel vision stagnates the blood supply in the area as well. 



  • Caffeine and stimulant abuse like coffee, energy drinks, pre-workout ‘boosters’ and the like keep our long-suffering adrenal glands in a frenzied state making it very difficult to relax normally. They also have a diuretic function and can lead to dehydration. The more likely result are swings from hyper stimulation to exhaustion and lethargy. It is no coincidence that cultures with high nervous stress but little physical exercise also consume high amounts of caffeine.


  • Too much ‘brain on a stick work’ as I like to call it. That is, work or activity that overstimulates the central nervous system while the body is stationary or underused. Working long hours seated indoors in front of a computer and telephone is not healthy for the body. The eyes themselves need to stretch their visual horizon further than 30-40 cm as well. Overstimulation of the central nervous system without the balancing effect of physical exercise  creates a craving for stimulants and simple sugars which in turn keep us jacked up an unable to fully relax and recuperate. Check out what the I.T. section of your office prefers to eat when they are working long hours or see what ‘foods’ are for sale at your local computer gaming center. No wonder so many people ‘need’ sleeping pills to sleep.


What we can do about it


  • Sleep in a dark room. This may seem obvious but we need to have a dark place to sleep so we can produce melatonin. If nothing else, get a sleeping mask. 


  • Use our physical body. Vigorous exercise with plenty of rest in between will increase HGH and we will sleep deeply at night and feel energetic in the morning.


  • Keep hydrated. Our poor kidneys suffer the most when we let ourselves become dehydrated. Drink plenty of water. Waiting till you are thirsty is already too late. An easy rule is to drink enough till we have clear urination. If it is not, drink more. If you live in a dry climate invest in a humidifier – at least where you sleep.


  • Reduce the levels of toxicity in our diet. It is very tough on the body to process poisons. In addition, many of them like coffee have a diuretic effect leaving us even more dehydrated and less equipped to clear waste from the body.


  • Lastly, we need to prioritize ourselves back into our own lives. If we feel life is making too many demands upon us, set some boundaries and stick to them. If we don’t think we’re worth it how can we hope others will?



The eyes have it


gleam in the eye


Not only around the eyes but in them too are signs of health. Compare the presence of a look from a small child to an infirm elderly person and you will see a very different life spark looking back at you.


The ‘glint in the eye’ is also seen as a sign of sexual potency and attractiveness. It signifies strong life force, a strong will and the capacity to survive. We usually only register this subliminally but it appeals to us as something charismatic in another.


So desirable is this considered that professional portrait photographers always place a small light facing upwards into the eyes to create that little white glint or window in the eye to simulate this attractive force. Failing that, there’s always the creation of a virtual glint in a photo editing program…


Our life is not virtual however so if we want some of that energy for real we need to edit out our self-sabotaging habits and look after what we already have.


Till we can run rings around another Monday,


[1] (Music) Jack Golden, and (Words) Ted Koehler & Edward Pola, in 1931.




© Jeremy Halpin all rights reserved. All images are the author’s own unless otherwise indicated or if the original source is unknown at the time of writing. You can subscribe to this blog by clicking the button in the bottom right hand corner of the page – or share it on the social media of your choice. If you have any wishes or questions regarding subjects to be discussed on this blog use the contact information below. Jeremy is also available for seminars, lectures and personal consultation: info@jeremyhalpin.com

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