There is a change in the sky. It is no longer the blinding bright California sun we have seen for these five months of summer. The days grow shorter, the evenings longer, the pumpkin spice stronger.
There are certain life events and seasons that carry with them a guarantee of stress. Knowing that list can help us prepare ahead of time, like knowing the stats of a team you are about to play.
Californians, used to their daily dose of Vitamin D provided by the sun itself, may find themselves affected by the seasonal change that comes with winter: less sunshine, fewer hours of daylight, cooler temperatures and cloudy skies. Low light stimulates the production of melatonin, the “sleepy hormone”, so important to our circadian rhythm. When we have more than normal, we eat a little a more, are a little less productive and a little more tired. Those things, which also happen to occur in states of depression, are part of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a state in which one feels a little to very, very low in winter.
Does the seasonal change affect you?
Whether major, minor or having nothing to do with weather, holidays are crazy, rain or shine. There are some things you can do to prepare yourself for what you know will be a more emotionally trying time.
First, ask yourself, how have you responded well to low-affect or stress in the past? Did you delegate? Connect with friends? Light candles to help the mood? Read a book?
Second, ask yourself, how did you respond negatively to low affect or stress? Did you shut down or lash out? Distract and procrastinate or overwork yourself? Self-medicate with gaming, alcohol, shopping or drugs?
In order to plan for the future, we need to know our strengths and weaknesses going into the season.
The strengths will tell you what you can lean on.
The weaknesses can tell you where to focus on growth.
In psychology, there is a selection of commonly acknowledged buffers that can both help protect you from depression and/or anxiety, and also help mitigate the damage when those emotions are inevitable (because sometimes life is just hard).
You often hear of the benefits of relationships and exercise. Those haven’t changed. Below are some less commonly discussed factors to factor in.
Williams James distinguished between two types of attention. Directed and fascination. Fascination, like contemplation in a Christian tradition, is an attention that expands the mind. Rather than the active engagement of direct attention, it sits back and observes. It is taken into the thing which fascinates it. This type of attention has shown restorative powers for both body and mind. We need it. We do not get enough of it. Even a window will help. Get a plant, get outside, go green.
As said earlier, SAD and mood changes related to winter occur because of changes in melatonin. Low light can cause low-affect. The answer is simple in this complicated world – more light. Light stimulates alertness and cognition. Treatment for SAD typically begins with sitting in a light box for an hour. If you are not in need of such direct intervention, but still need a boost, turn on some lights. Use light strategically in your house.
Smells of the season
Scent is directly tied to many long-term memories. Stores know that the typical holiday sounds and smells provide a mood boost for customers. Use this knowledge for yourself. Does it give you joy? Light a candle, boil some apple cider and orange peels or bake strategically when you are feeling low or even at the end of the day to transition to a more restful mood.
Since symptoms related to depression and anxiety tend to stall our thought processes, getting them going in a safe, unemotional way can help counteract the negative feelings. Crossword puzzles, Sudoku, board games, reading literature that stretches us a bit intellectually all help keep our mind active.
Plan now, benefit later. Happy Fall!