If I had to choose, I would say that fall is probably my favourite time of the year. There’s a cool nip in the air that means we can break out our comfy sweaters, the changing colours of the leaves adds a warm glow to local scenery, and every year companies develop innovative ways to infuse cinnamon and pumpkin spice into something new to jam down our throats. As something of a night owl, I enjoy the peaceful calm of earlier nights, and any excuse to sip a hot herbal tea is alright by me.
However, for many people this time of year triggers the onset of Seasonal Affective Disorder, and symptoms of depression begin to appear. With shorter days and colder nights, we have less exposure to sunlight, which reduces our absorption of vitamin D. It becomes harder to get out of bed in the morning, and for many people that chill in the air seems to be an energy drain and daily tasks require that much extra effort. One of the most difficult aspects of this condition is the feeling of helplessness once the weather begins to change, almost as if the cooler winds bring with them waves of depressive symptoms, and try as we might we simply can’t control the weather and are at its mercy.
While that may be true, there are certainly other measures that people with S.A.D. can take to help decrease or even prevent the seasonal onset of depression. Here are a few simple strategies that can be helpful if the colder weather seems to get you down:
Take extra comfort measures. If this time of year seems to drag you down, make sure to invest in your mental health by building positive, enjoyable activities into your daily routine. This could involve taking a little extra time for a hot shower, sipping on a hot chocolate while you work, or even booking an appointment to get a massage.
Make the effort to continue to engage in social activities. It might seem instinctual to enter a fall/winter hibernation mode to avoid the cold, and once the snow and ice hit the road it is that much easier to cancel plans and vegetate at home. However, limiting our social activities means limiting our access to social supports, which can contribute to depressive symptoms, so make sure to continue seeing family and friends when you are able to do so.
Throughout the day try and get as much exposure to sunlight as possible. Exposure to sunlight is tied to our natural production of serotonin and melatonin, which regulate our mood and sleep cycle. This could involve going for a walk at lunch, opening all the blinds in your office, or structuring your weekends so that you get outside for a few hours.
Structure your sleep/wake cycle so it changes as little as possible. Again, your instinct might be to enter hibernation mode and go to sleep once the sun goes down, but this can also cause changes in your bodies natural rhythm that increase symptoms of depression. If you generally go to bed at a certain time during the summer, try and stick to this schedule despite the change in weather and daylight.
Invest in a light therapy lamp. If it is simply not possible to access natural sunlight during the day, purchasing a light therapy lamp can help you reap the benefits of sunlight on your own schedule from the comfort of your home.
See a psychotherapist. If this condition has affected you in the past and you notice changes in your mood or energy levels, talking to a mental health professional can be a highly effective way to gain more insight into your symptoms, and to develop specific strategies to help combat the increase in depressive symptoms. It doesn’t take a lifelong commitment; many people begin to see positive changes after only a few sessions.
Whichever strategies you choose to try, keep in mind that we are creatures of habit, and we require balance in our lives. If the changing weather seems to sap you of energy and happiness, building more positive activities into your day will be an important part of maintaining that balance. Make sure you are on your own team, and if you need that extra support there are options available.