By Kate Kripke, LCSW
Fall has come. If your mental health is affected by the change of seasons — whether you have seasonal depression, postpartum depression or seasonal affective disorder — here are some great tips on getting through the transition of the seasons.
Transition: The process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another.
It is the season, folks. Of change. The light changes. The temperature changes. The leaves and flowers and last pieces of summer-ness change. School starts. Work might be busier. People are outside less. For many of us as we add layers of clothing, we also add layers of distress. Season change and the start of Autumn is exciting for many but, for others, it brings with a veil of worry, anxiety, sadness, and discomfort in the form of depressed or anxious moods, or, from some of you, seasonal depression.
And for moms who are already struggling with postpartum depression and/or anxiety, this change can feel like too much to bear. Over here in Boulder, my phone rings more often and so I can see the connection pretty clearly.
So, my post today comes with some suggestions for you about how to take care of yourself if you are one of the many who find your emotional wellness slipping away with the daylight, whether it’s full-blown seasonal affective disorder ,known as seasonal depression, or a worsening of your moods when fall comes. This is, of course, not a cure-all, a reason not to seek out face-to-face support if you are really having a tough time, or a way of telling you that if you just tried harder, you would feel better (we all know that postpartum depression and anxiety doesn’t work that way). But for those of you who are feeling like you could use something tangible to help you get through seasonal depression and the bumps of transition, here you go:
1. Try and identify one thing that remains consistent through this transition, and pay attention to it. This can be something as literal as “I take a shower every morning”, as practice-based as “I take 5 deep breaths when I notice myself becoming anxious,” or as metaphoric as “I am a tree withstanding a storm” or “I am a stone in a raging river.” Or, you may want to try identifying, out loud, all of the parts of you that remain steady despite the changes around you: “I am a woman. I live in ____. I am a mother. My baby’s name is _____.” When we feel ungrounded, it can be reassuring to know that there is something that we can count on.
2. Make sure you are meeting your basic needs. Sleep, nutrition (including adequate protein intake), exercise, and water intake are all imperative for brain health and functioning and can help us to tolerate the effects of stress.
3. Stay connected. As the weather changes, we all seem to go back indoors and, too often, this isolation contributes to feelings of depression and anxiety. Reach out to those people in your life whom you feel your best around.
4. Ask yourself what it is that you need to feel well today. In other words, you can’t change the change, but you can make choices around the way you care for yourself during this change. Perhaps you need to ask for more help/support from your partner, family or friends. Maybe you need a bit more exercise, or more rest. Maybe you need to cut down on your to-do list. What you need now may be different three months from now.
5. Be kind to yourself. Yeah, I know. This one can be hard, especially if you are one of the many who has very high expectations of yourself. But, the truth is that most people feel the ripple of change and so it makes sense that you may begin to feel a bit un-moored at this time. When you beat yourself up for feeling out of sorts, it adds a whole new level of distress.
6. Talk about it. If you give yourself permission to talk about the effect seasonal change is having on you, you will most likely find that others understand and validate how you feel. Company is truly healing.
7. Plan ahead for the winter months. Many people suffer from a real illness called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) that occurs, most commonly, during winter when the daylight hours are shortest. If you know that you struggle during the winter, you may want to consider thinking ahead so that you are prepared to take really good care of yourself when you need it most. If you cook, you may want to consider preparing some healthy meals that can be frozen and reheated when your motivation for cooking is lessoned (or asking friends and family to help you with this!). If you are not currently taking a multi-vitamin, you may want to consider starting one so that you build up your immunity, your nutritional intake, and your energy levels. Perhaps you can look ahead at finding childcare for times when you crave breaks away from the house, exercise that does not involve being attached to your baby, and/or connecting with a community of friends. Maybe there are exercise classes that you can pre-registiter for at your local rec center. This transition time may be the perfect opportunity to look ahead to what you might need to feel well later.
8. Add color to your home. This is kind of a materialistic one, I know, but this may be a great time to add color and brightness. Those of us who live in the land of seasons get a burst of color (albeit fall color) and then all of the color in our environment seems to disappear. Re-charging your environment may help to keep your spirits up.
9. Breathe. Seriously. When we get ramped up in our emotions, we tend to move faster to stay ahead of feelings that are distressing. We do more. Unfortunately, counter to expectation, this actually can make us feel more anxious. If you notice that you are becoming depressed or anxious during this time, you may find that a few deep, belly breaths helps to calm the tension … and slow you down.
10. Try your best to have perspective. This is hard when you aren’t feeling great, but it is important. Seasons change. Transitions come and go. Those of us who are mothers know that nothing stays around forever … neither the pleasant (she is sleeping!) nor the unpleasant (he will never stop crying!). To use a very over stated phrase, “this too shall pass.” That doesn’t mean that this transition will be easy, but it won’t last forever. Autumn will come and go, as will winter. And then spring will peak its head out again and we’ll be making our way back to summer. And then (ugh) we get to do it again, maybe this time with a little more understanding, tolerance, and practice.