And just like that, it’s fall again.
For some, the beginning of autumn smells like pumpkin spice and feels like being wrapped up in your softest, coziest sweater. For many others, though, the changing of the leaves and the shortening of the days signals the start of something much darker. Seasonal Affective Disorder (aptly acronymed S.A.D) refers to depression that is associated with a change in the seasons – people who experience S.A.D may notice the onset of depression symptoms, or a worsening of existing symptoms, typically during late autumn or early winter as the days become shorter, darker, colder, and wetter. If this sounds familiar to you, you’re probably already dreading the next few months. Without the promise of holiday festivities or being able to see your friends and family outside in a safe (and warm), socially distanced setting, the season ahead may be challenging in new ways. So, how can you prioritize your mental health this fall and winter and get ahead of S.A.D? Here are our tips:
Make sure you have your self-care routine down pat
It’s much harder to convince yourself to do the things you know might help you feel a little bit more human when you’re already in the depths of your depression. Things like ensuring you get regular and adequate sleep and exercise can do a world of good in alleviating some symptoms of depression, but can be next to impossible to actually put into action when you’re struggling to even get out of bed each day. Schedule self-care into your routine and remember how crucial this will be as times get tougher – try to create or recommit to healthy habits now while you may have some of that precious extra energy. Make sure you also have a list of simpler, more basic self-care tasks that can help you get through the worst days – if you can get out of bed, stretch your body; change your clothes, even if it’s to put on a different pair of pyjamas; drink one glass of water; tidy one small area of your room. Whatever these things may look like for you, write them down while you can. Make a list of them in the notes app on your phone. You’ll thank yourself later.
Let your support network know what’s coming
When we’re really struggling with our mental health, it’s common to pull away from others and isolate ourselves. We may wish the people in our lives were perceptive enough to pick up even the slightest hints that we may be struggling and reach out to us, but the fact is that people are not mindreaders. If they don’t know what’s going on, our friends and family may not know what to look out for or how they can help. Let at least a couple of trusted people know what this season might look like for you, and some simple ways they can help, even if it’s just a regular check-in phone call or text, or bringing you some pho when you just can’t bring yourself to cook up something nourishing and comforting. Make an appointment with your therapist or doctor and come up with a management plan. The point is, you don’t have to – and shouldn’t have to – go through this alone.
Find other ways to celebrate giving holidays and create things to look forward to
Focusing on taking care of yourself is priority number one. But, if you’re feeling up to it, doing something nice for someone else can be a surprisingly effective mood booster. Acts of kindness can help combat feelings of hopelessness by serving as a reminder that you can still have a positive impact on others’ lives. We may not be able to look forward to holiday parties like in years past, but we can still commit to taking care of ourselves and others. 2020 has been unpredictable and challenging in ways we could have never imagined, and there’s no way to predict what’s to come. But we can still make an effort to connect and give back – send twice as many cards, connect with an old friend, or donate to your local food bank.
Be gentle and forgiving
Even if you manage to do all of the things on this list, you probably will still have those days where you crawl back under the covers at 12pm, feeling defeated. Even on these bad days, remember that we are all worthy of compassion. If you can’t manage even the simpler self-care tasks some days, that’s okay. You are not broken – you are doing as much as your body and brain are allowing you to do during an incredibly difficult period of stress. None of this is easy, and there’s no guidebook. But one thing is for sure: the sun will come out again.