The leaves are turning and, for some people, so is their mood. The change of season brings the joy of pumpkin spice lattes, the smell of burning leaves, and Sunday football. With Facebook and Instagram full of fall-loving people in their cowl-neck sweaters, it can feel like a prerequisite to adore fall … but some folks do not.
Sure, Halloween is a fun holiday. And some of us might be guilty of a shameless social post or two showcasing our “autumn spirit.” We can even enjoy a movie, cuddled up with a cup of coffee like the rest of the world, but we can feel it coming … winter.
The dark when you wake up and the dark when you get off work. The lack of exercise because you want to stay in bed is coming. Telling a friend 8 p.m. is too late for a walk around the neighborhood. These things are coming.
Those suffering from seasonal depression can feel it coming. Often called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), it sneaks in through these cold, wet, and damp weeks. If isolation from COVID-19 during the spring and summer was not bad enough, now those people worry about how they’re going to make it through the winter months.
Dr. Jonah Fox, our medical director at WPS, was asked for his advice on the impacts to mental health and how can we can get through the challenges of SAD.
Dr. Fox mentioned that while the cause of seasonal affective disorder is largely unknown, a few potential factors include:
- The reduced amount of sunlight in winter, which may cause both winter-onset SAD, as well as a drop in serotonin (a brain chemical that affects mood).
- The change in season can disrupt the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.
“In order to stay as happy and healthy as possible this winter, we need to take care of ourselves and those around us,” Dr. Fox said. “It starts with being honest about how we feel, making a plan, seeking resources early, and checking in on one another.”
Learning how to manage the stress of the season change is important. He offered these helpful strategies to help us make it through:
- Ensure access to plenty of natural light by spending time outside, even if it’s cloudy. Enhanced indoor light with regular lamps and fixtures can help, as well.
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule, even when cold weather tempts you to sleep in.
- Exercise regularly with daily walks or other aerobic activity. Check out these tips from the American Heart Association for staying active in cold weather.
Although these are not groundbreaking ideas, they are recommendations that require some thought and reflection as to how to apply (and actually do) them in our lives. What is a routine that will work for you? How will you prioritize sunshine? Will you reach out to a therapist this season? What are your priorities through the holidays and the next months?
Coming up with a plan is essential for many of us who are faced with SAD on top of a global pandemic.
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