As the final weeks of September creep in, the weather has begun to cool off. With the cooling temperatures comes the sure sign that fall is not far behind: falling leaves, football, hoodies, and pumpkin spice lattes. For those who enjoy the fall season, it’s a fun and exciting time, but for those who dread the dark and dreary winter coming it can be a time of anxiety and concern that negative feels are soon to follow.
There are a great many people in the U.S. who suffer from depressive symptoms that set in as the calendar turns from September to October and November. As the days get shorter and the nighttime comes earlier, it’s easier to get stuck in the negative feelings that come with the loss of warm, comforting weather. The medical community refers to this as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and while not everyone feels the symptoms severely enough to warrant a diagnosis, most of us can relate to needing a little boost during this time of year.
Here are some tips that you can use to help battle the dreary feelings associated with this time of year:
1. Recognize the symptoms– The most important place to begin is to understand the symptoms of SAD. The most common symptoms include trouble getting out of bed, losing motivation to do this, no longer having interest in things you used to love, changes in appetite, difficulty focusing, and an inability to think clearly. These symptoms appear in cycle in SAD, meaning that you won’t really feel them any time other than the fall and winter months. So if you’re a ball of energy in June, but a puddle January, you may be experiencing SAD symptoms.
2. Let in the Sun– Part of the reason that we experience depressive symptoms during this time of year is that we have less exposure to sunlight as the days get shorter. You’re mind and body are in tune with world around you, so when you don’t see as much sun, your mood is bleaker and down. You can challenge this by increase the amount of sunlight you’re exposed to. Throw open the shades, wake up earlier to enjoy the sun, and replace the dark paint with some brighter, vibrant colors. It may even help to move the furniture around so that your couch and bed are in directly sunlight.
3. Actively engage in things you enjoy– While our energy level during this time of year can be low, it’s important to force ourselves to be active to combat these depressive symptoms. Now is a great time to plan activities, even if our motivation might be less than great. In most cases, you’ll find that once you get out of the house, your energy returns to its previous, summertime state. If you’re able, you may even want to schedule a vacation during these winter months instead of using it all up during the summer.
4. Be actively healthy– When our energy level is low health factors often fall by the wayside, which contributes to our depression. Instead of feeling like its too cold out to hit the gym, force yourself to try and get in a workout. Avoid those unhealthy fast food meals just because they’re easier and make the effort to eat a little healthier. Your body will be boosted by the increased efforts to be healthy, and your mind will follow close behind.
5. Check out light therapy– Some client’s who suffer from SAD find it helpful to utilize light therapy in an effort to improve their mood. Light therapy involves using a device that emits light closer that emitted by the sun in an effort to help your mind and body forget about the drab conditions outside. There are several devices available—from battery-powered visors, portable light boxes and special light bulbs, to dawn simulators (lamps that switch on before dawn and gradually light your room, like the sun rising)—but be cautious and talk to your health care provider before trying light therapy.
6. If all else fails, get help– SAD is a common condition that affects people, particularly those living in the Midwest where the winters are long and cold. It can also be a serious one that causes significant stress in our daily lives. If you’ve tried all these and other techniques with little improvement, don’t hesitate to seek clinical help from your doctor or from a counselor like the ones at the Anxiety & Stress Center!
Just because the weather is bleak outside, doesn’t mean that we have to match it with our feelings inside. If you feel like you have less motivation and energy during the winter months, be active in challenging it. With these tips, you can help to ensure that the season doesn’t dictate your mood!
William Knor, LCPC
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor