This year, rather than falling prey to seasonal depression, try something new to stay content and secure as the weather shifts. If a whiff of autumn leaves, the sight of pumpkins and the feel of that north wind brings sad and confused feelings for you, you’re not alone. The sensation of “It’s beautiful and it bums me out” is a normal experience!
As daylight shortens and the weather turns from summer to fall, many people feel depression and anxiety. The Mayo Clinic cites that “Seasonal depression, often called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a depression that occurs each year at the same time, usually starting in fall, worsening in winter, and ending in spring. Approximately half a million people in the United States suffer from winter SAD, while 10 to 20% may suffer from a more mild form of winter blues.”
There are, of course, many good reasons for more sadness and worry in the fall.
The days are shorter with darkness encroaching earlier and earlier each evening. Temperatures drop affecting the way we dress, heat our homes and spend time outdoors. Fall schedules appear with more structure, expectations and obligations. It’s no wonder that “Ah summer, don’t go…” is an oft-repeated phrase on social media these days. The ease of living in a bright, warm, alive climate is fading day by day.
So what can you do to help yourself when sadness approaches?
As a person who has always lived in the northeast and northern midwest of the U.S., I have experienced climate as one of clearly defined seasons. For most of my life, the shift from winter to spring felt hopeful and joyful. However, the transition from summer to fall warned of the cold, dark, depression-filled winter ahead. In addition, the return to school in the fall meant more work, higher expectations, and loads of fear, Fall became associated with insecurity and dread.
This sounds like a rather bleak picture. But read on!
Feeling sad, depressed and blue is only one side of the difficulty of the autumn mood.
Beautiful images and memories of harvest, warm clothing, colorful trees, fresh cool air and cozy gatherings are also a part of the fall. And these experiences can be wonderful. However, if your mood is moving into a low, sad sensation, these good qualities of fall create a confusing internal experience of love and loathing.
How can you feel well and trust your world and your experience when inside you are full of such strong polarized feelings? In my experience, this polarization between appreciation and sadness increases worry and the worry can lead to more depression.
When you feel so much ambivalence and confusion, you find it harder to be calm, clear and confident.
It makes sense, really. The negative thoughts about your external environment trigger anxiety about being able to handle it. This sets up your nervous system to be ready for danger at any minute. When the nervous system is energized in this way, the world naturally looks more ominous, darker and less friendly. Too much stress feels awful and makes you more susceptible to depression.
Unless you're completely isolated and homebound, you are likely to see beauty, bounty and warmth around you – a gorgeous tree, freshly baked apple pie, adorable children in their school backpacks. However, if your body is cued up for danger, these pleasant feelings may be dismissed, denied or ignored. Confusion and self-criticism ensue. “Why does everyone else seem to be able to handle the fall schedule?” “I feel like such a complainer all the time!” “It stinks that it's so beautiful and I feel lousy.” This is quite depressing!
Now you are feeling sad, anxious and self-critical. Happy Halloween!
This year try these healthy practices to change this nasty emotional trick into an autumn treat.
1. Spend 15 minutes writing down every feeling that happens for you when the leaves start to turn.
While this might not sound like much fun, it is an important step to actually begin to notice what is going on inside you. Do not edit. Do not critique. Simply bullet any thoughts, feelings, images or opinions that happen at this time of year. Your list might look something like this:
- I hate it when it gets dark before I leave work.
- I feel frustrated having to wear a jacket to go outside.
- Mornings are dark and it’s hard to get out of bed.
- I feel such sadness when I have to wake the kids to go to school.
- Evenings go by too quickly. It’s homework, dinner and bed.
- I miss being outside, swimming and enjoying the sunshine.
2. After you have allowed all of these feelings to emerge without judging them, set them aside for up to a day.
By setting this list aside, you offer yourself some time to separate from these thoughts and feelings and simply let them stand on their own. When you revisit them, you can notice a little curiosity about what you’ve shared with yourself on the page.
3. Breathe and get really curious as you observe your list. If you have any negative feelings toward yourself for feeling these ways, simply write them down on another paper.
Ask these negative feelings if it would be alright if you just spent a little time with the parts of you (that you wrote earlier) who are having a hard time facing Fall. If that feels fine inside you, go ahead and observe your original list. If not, stay with the critical feelings you just wrote down. You can use the same process and it will be fine.
4. Get curious and ask yourself how long each bulleted point from #1 has been a part of your personality. When you have any feelings about this, write it down beside the bullet.
For example, I feel that “hating the dark before I leave work” started when I was in high school and had to stay late for sports or clubs. It felt so sad to arrive home only after darkness. So, I would write “high schooler” beside this part. Do this with each bullet and really take your time to ask yourself inside: When was the first memory of this or how long have I felt this way?
5. Now step back and look at your list. See how long you have been carrying these fears, sadnesses and regrets? Express a little compassion to these young parts of you who feel these pains each year.
Breathe and appreciate these memories as you are able. Now you are grown. Now you can let all of these parts know you can clearly see how hard that was for you and how confusing it feels when you want to feel good but are sad about things you cannot control (like the seasons).
6. Show these parts of you how many more choices and options you have in your life now.
Any little choice is likely more than you had. For example, I like to show my parts that I no longer must get out of bed on time. I choose to get up and get to the life I have made for myself. Ask if there is anything that you could change today that would be fun. Perhaps you wear super warm clothes and go out after dark. Maybe you take a moment to absorb some midday sunshine. Extra lights in your home might feel good to young parts of you. This is a good time to gently ask what you do love about fall and then allow yourself to experience it – baking, hay rides, a new class, a special sweater, etc.
Use this practice every day throughout the fall.
Get to know the parts of your personality that carry strong feelings about the seasons. Remember that no part of you is trying to hurt you. Bring a caring, patient attitude to all of your inner world and your Autumn will not cause you to fall this year.
For much more on how to handle worries and gain self-confidence, go to calmyourworries.com today.