Fall and winter bring cooler, darker nights and mornings. Along with the temperature and light change, we are about to change the clocks again and cooler temps will arrive. Consider the physical, emotional, and relational ways you may be affected by this transition.
The impact of light and temperature on the human body is profound. We all need some level of light and warmth for our bodies to survive and thrive. Autumn, for some parts of the world, marks a change in both light and warmth as we approach colder and darker days.
Many people struggle with seasonal affective mood issues, commonly referred to as seasonal affective disorder (SAD)—a depression related to the change in seasons. For most, this begins in fall and continues through the winter months. It’s marked by moodiness, low energy, difficulty sleeping, a lack of interest in activities and relationships, feeling hopeless, and an overall sense of depression. Known more casually as “the winter blues,” SAD can have a significant impact on your mood and relationships. If you are more irritable, withdrawn, or moody during the winter months, the time to plan and prepare is now.
Our days have been getting shorter since June, but the hour change of sunlight makes it feel as though it happened in one night. Next thing we know, it’s dark after work!
Why do we get down in the winter? Less sunlight affects your circadian rhythm, the body’s internal clock that governs certain brain wave activity and hormone production. This shift can change mood-related chemicals in a way that can cause depression.
Here are a few tips to protect your mental health during the shorter days of fall and winter.
1. Get outdoors & absorb real sunlight
If you can manage to sneak away for even 10 or 15 minutes at lunchtime to get outside and soak in as many rays as possible, you’ll get a decent-enough sunshine fix. Or put on your coat and gloves and brave the cold during the weekend for a nice long walk at noon. I run all year round, even if I have to wear several layers! Getting outdoors in fresh air can feel good, even if only for short spurts.
2. Take a Vitamin D Supplement
Consider taking a vitamin D supplement during the winter months. Many diseases are correlated with low vitamin D levels, especially depression. Even if you’re not feeling low, I would have your levels checked, which your primary care physician can do. The National Institutes of Health's recommended dietary allowance for vitamin D is 600 IUs a day. But Mercola suggests that adults take as much as 5,000 IUs per day. Your doctor can help you determine the best amount of vitamin D to take, if you need it.
3. Get some exercise
Although we've known for decades that exercise can decrease depression symptoms, exercise can increase the levels of the neurotransmitters glutamate and GABA, both of which are depleted in the brains of people with depression and anxiety. If there were a drug that could do for human health everything that exercise can, it would likely be the most valuable pharmaceutical ever developed.
4. Consider using a light box
Light boxes are the typical light system used for SAD in clinical studies. They're flat screens that produce full-spectrum fluorescent light, usually at an intensity of 10,000 lux(lux is the measure of visible light). It’s important to position a light box according to the manufacturer’s instructions and use it at the same time each day, typically for 30 to 60 minutes. Most people get the best results when they use a light box before 10 a.m.
5. Connect with friends and loved ones
Winter can be a time of hibernation for many, especially with the cold and darkness. While rest and slowing down is important, be aware if you are feeling lonely and isolated which can lead to depression. Snuggling under the blankets with a cup of cocoa/tea/coffee is wonderful, so can connecting with your favorite people and having some laughs.
6. Engage in a few of your favorite hobbies or discover new ones
Most of my hobbies are outdoor adventure types, and luckily I live in a climate that I can get outdoors all year round. However, I am indoors more of the time in the winter to warm up. I may go to yoga, read books, spend time in warm coffee shops or write a little more. Sometimes I will take my dog to Lowe’s Home Improvement(it’s pet friendly) to walk around and do training when’s it’s freezing or raining!
7. Listen to music
In a 2016 study, researchers showed that listening to upbeat or cheery music significantly improved participant’s mood in both the short and long term. I must agree that music can be mood lifting, and so can dancing in the kitchen!
8. Essential Oils
I love the smell of good quality essential oils! Oils with citrus and orange can be uplifting when mood is feeling low and you need more energy. Our olfactory system is very powerful, I dab a few drops on my wrists and chest or use a diffuser.
With all this said, if you are struggling, reach out for support from a qualified, licensed therapist or see your doctor. Being able to to catch it in the beginning can be helpful with getting back on track to feeling like yourself again.
Life is a delicate balance of holding on and letting go.
We are afraid to let go for different reasons and what we need to let go of can be different for all of us.
Maybe it is the ending of a relationship or perhaps a job or certain career path. Even though we know what we need to do, it doesn’t make it any less challenging. For some, maybe it’s things. For some who grew up in poverty and fear of lack can compel them to collect and hoard. Perhaps it is a certain mindset or belief system that we are holding onto and struggling to let go of.
Personally speaking, sometimes if I am afraid to let go it was because of not knowing of what’s next and having to trust that there is yet more goodness and beauty to come my way. But I know I must let go of what was to make space for what will be.
Sometimes what I’m really letting go of is the representation of a beautiful season of life. Perhaps a dream I had which can bring unexpected grief mixed with hope. Fear tells me it will never again be as sweet as this. Even though I know deep down that it will be sweet again. Though I have all the feels, I can let go of what was to make space for what will be.
I am learning to coexist with discomfort and take action anyway so I can do the work to which I am called in this new season. I challenge fear with truth and let go of who I was to make space for who I choose to be.
Each day I can remind myself to take a breath and trust the journey. Instead of stepping into each day with a rigid agenda, I show up with curiosity.
I can loosen my grip on what I think should be to make space for possibilities and joy.
Doing the work of discovering what it is that draws us to to hold on tight is the first step to letting go. It is in this messy, uncomfortable place that we begin to untangle the roots of fear and find our way to freedom.
It is here that I identify my own compelling reason to let go of what was to make space for what will be. The path to true growth is through.
We can craft a life that is rich with purpose. A life with room to breathe so that we are freed up to share our voice and gifts. This is the way to freedom. Once we’ve done the inner work, we let go of what was to make space for what will be.
Life and Leadership Coach, Licensed Counselor, outdoor enthusiast, yoga lover and passionate about wellness.