As the leaves turn vibrant colors and the air carries a chill, it’s undeniable that autumn has arrived in Wisconsin with its full splendor! While this season brings with it a sense of coziness and plenty of pumpkin-spiced delight, it’s also a time when many individuals find themselves grappling with shifts in mood and energy with the new seasonal changes.
In this blog post, we’ll shed light on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a common mental health condition people find themselves experiencing as the days grow shorter and colder, and offer a few helpful tips for taking care of your mental health while we navigate these seasonal shifts.
Season of Transformation: Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Autumn is truly nature’s artful masterpiece, a time of transition and transformation. The changing leaves dazzle us with hues of orange, crimson, and gold, inspiring a sense of awe and wonder. The cooler temperatures invite us to bundle up in cozy sweaters, sip warm apple cider, and find fall-themed activities that allow us to spend quality time with our loved ones. It’s a season that encourages introspection, as the world prepares to hibernate for the winter ahead before rejuvenating itself in the spring.
Despite the beloved cozy fall vibes, as the daylight hours grow shorter, many individuals experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression that follows a seasonal pattern. While SAD can affect people during any season, it’s most commonly associated with fall and winter when the hours of sunlight are fewer.
The lack of natural light can disrupt the body’s internal clock, affecting mood-regulating neurotransmitters like serotonin and melatonin. It is often characterized by feelings of depression, lethargy, feeling hopeless, struggling with focus or concentration, and a general sense of sadness that can significantly impact a person’s daily life. According to Lana Cheslock (LCSW), Foundations Health & Wholeness Therapist and Director of Clinical Services & Operations, “The symptoms associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder can range anywhere from mild to severe. For some people, SAD can be quite debilitating.”
Another factor at play with SAD is the disruption of the body’s circadian rhythm, which controls sleep-wake cycles and other essential functions. These changes to the circadian rhythm cause disharmony that can lead to fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and changes in appetite and sleep patterns. “It’s easy to see,” says Cheslock, “how Seasonal Affective Disorder can really disrupt an individual’s life. It’s critical that we check in with ourselves and prioritize our self-care. Encourage your loved ones to do the same!”
Beating the Blues: Tips for Navigating SAD and Taking Care of Your Mental Wellness
Don’t worry! There’s hope for symptom relief. While SAD can be challenging to endure, understanding its underlying causes can help individuals take steps to manage their symptoms. “Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, prioritizing healthy sleep, and making a habit of self-care can all be effective strategies to alleviate the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder and encourage a sense of well-being during the colder, darker months of the year,” says Cheslock.
Here are just a few tips for coping with the effects of fall/winter Seasonal Affective Disorder:
- Soak Up the Sun: Make the most of daylight hours by spending some time outdoors in sunlight. Take a leisurely walk around the block, sip your coffee on the porch, or do your work by a sunlit window. Sunlight helps us get that much needed Vitamin D!
- Light Therapy: They don’t call it a “Happy Light” for no reason! Consider using a light therapy box that mimics natural sunlight. Exposure to this light, especially in the morning, can help regulate your body’s internal clock and alleviate SAD symptoms.
- Nourish Your Body With Healthy Foods: Embrace autumn’s bounty by enjoying seasonal fruits and vegetables! Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon and walnuts, can also support brain health. Eating a well-balanced diet that includes plenty of fresh produce can improve overall health and sense of wellness.
- Engage in Activities You Love: Whether it’s apple picking, hiking through colorful trails, or cozying up with a good book, strive to find joy in activities that bring you happiness. It’s also a great time to pick up a new hobby or craft or perhaps try a new class in your area to get engaged with people in your community.
- Stay Active: Physical activity releases endorphins, which can help improve mood. Even a short walk can make a big difference to your mental health. Consider trying a fitness class or starting a workout routine that suits your needs and lifestyle. Yoga or gentle stretching are also encouraged!
- Mindfulness and Self-Care: Engage in mindfulness practices, such as meditation and deep breathing, to stay grounded, reduce stress, and help calm the nervous system. Gratitude practices are also helpful to remind us of the many small joys in our life.
- Ask For Help: Sometimes, we need a little extra help to overcome difficult slumps of life, and it’s 100% okay to ask for help! If you’re overwhelmed by depression symptoms or abusing substances to find relief, it may be time to reach out to a medical care provider and/or therapist for additional support.
Mental Health Therapy For Wellness
Taking care of your mental health isn’t just for the autumn season! Caring for your mental health is a year-round essential to achieve well-being. Just as we should tend to our physical wellness consistently through things like exercise, our mental well-being deserves the same attention. Mental health influences every aspect of our lives, from our relationships and work performance to overall quality of life. By adopting practices like stress management, self-care, and seeking help from professionals when needed, we can maintain emotional resilience and better navigate life’s peaks and valleys. Prioritizing mental health year-round is not only about preventing crises but also fostering a happier, more fulfilling life overall! And you deserve to thrive.
Mental health therapy can be game-changing for supporting your mental health journey, including management of Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms! Seeking support from a mental health professional can provide a safe space to explore your feelings and develop coping strategies for SAD. Therapists can help individuals reframe negative thoughts, develop new tools to manage symptoms, and offer practical skills to manage their emotions and behaviors.
And remember: reaching out for support is NOT a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength, courage, and self-awareness.
Autumn is a time of change, both in nature and within ourselves. While the beauty of this season can be awe-inspiring for many, it’s important to acknowledge that not everyone experiences seasonal changes with the same level of joy. For those navigating the challenges of Seasonal Affective Disorder, therapy can often be a beacon of hope and a safe space to support your well-being. (And don’t forget the self-care and compassion!)
So cozy up, breathe in the crisp autumn air, and let’s begin a journey of self-discovery and healing together! If you feel ready to embark on your journey to better health in mind and spirit, please call our compassionate client engagement team at 920-437-8256 to schedule an appointment. Our therapists would love to help you on your journey to mental wellness, healing, and thriving.
Wishing everyone a beautiful autumn season!
Reviewed by: Lana Cheslock (LCSW) Foundations Health & Wholeness Therapist / Director of Clinical Services & Operations.
Please dial 988 (Suicide and Crisis Lifeline) if you are in need of immediate mental health assistance. Your life matters.