As with any transition, seasonal changes can be stressful on your body and mind. When the weather gets colder and your exposure to sunlight shifts, you might start to notice that you feel lower on energy, less motivated, more irritable, anxious, or depressed.
According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), these physical and psychological shifts tend to occur more often in the fall or winter months because there is less sunlight, possibly resulting in a biochemical imbalance. Luckily, you can take steps to minimize seasonal stress, which may help you more easily adapt to the changing seasons.
1. Change Your Exercise Routine
Seasonal changes can be a trigger that helps us tune in to our bodies and become more mindful of what our bodies need. Just as trees shed their leaves to conserve energy during the colder months, we also need to slow down when we feel signs of seasonal stress. It is critical to stay active, but you might need to change up your usual routine. For example, you could swap your vinyasa yoga practice for yin or go for a mindful walk outside instead of running on the treadmill at the gym.
Sometimes, you might not feel like exercising; however, keep in mind that it can be one of the best ways of dealing with stress, anxiety, and depression. In an article for the American Council on Exercise, psychologist Michael Mantell says that it can be helpful to think in terms of getting “movement” as opposed to “exercise.'"
2. Pay Attention to Your Diet
During times of less daylight and colder temperatures, your body might not be craving a salad or bowl of fresh fruit. There is a reason that we and carbohydrates during the fall and winter months—they boost serotonin levels that typically dip due to less exposure to daylight.
While it is OK to indulge every now and then, it is also critical to take care of your health and nutritional needs to maintain a healthy balance. Make sure to meet your nutritional requirements, especially vitamin D, which can become deficient in the fall and winter months. Check out the free ScriptSave WellRx Grocery Guidance App for inspiration and food tips to help you stay on track and find foods that align with your wellness goals.
3. Find Your Source of Comfort
You can find comfort in many different sources. Try to avoid using food, TV, or other mind-numbing sedentary activities as your primary way of comforting yourself when you feel down or low on energy. Instead, try to find healthier ways of coping. For example, you could engage in hobbies you enjoy; join an indoor group sports team or social group; take up a creative activity, such as painting or learning to play a musical instrument; or tackle your bucket reading list. Find whatever it is that inspires you and makes you feel good.
4. Cultivate a Mindful Attitude
Seasonal changes provide us with the perfect opportunity to pay attention, turn inward, and reconnect to ourselves and nature. In an article for Psychology Today, psychologist Jonathan S. Kaplan points out that just being aware of the changes in nature or the weather can help you become more mindful and develop an attitude of acceptance. After all, you cannot change or control the forecast or the amount of sunlight in your part of the country (although you could consider light therapy at a specialized clinic or use a light therapy lamp at the beginning of the fall season).
Try to cultivate an appreciation for these changes by taking a mindful stroll when the leaves start to change, paying attention to the colors, smells, and sensations of the cooler air on your skin.
5. Don’t Ignore the Symptoms of SAD
The APA explains that the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can include:
- Changes in appetite (especially craving more carbohydrates)
- Changes in sleep (usually sleeping too much).
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Feeling sad or low
- Lack of energy or increased daytime fatigue
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Thoughts of self-harm or death
SAD is a type of depression that is just as real as any other mental health condition. If you think you (or someone you care about) may be struggling with SAD, do not hesitate to reach out to a qualified mental health professional for assistance. Many types of treatment, including light therapy, medication, or talk therapy, can provide relief. If you would like to find a qualified therapist in your area, you could consult your family doctor or search the nationwide directory provided by Psychology Today.
Stacy Mosel, LMSW, is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, and substance abuse specialist. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in music from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, she continued her studies at New York University, earning a Master of Social Work degree in 2002. She has extensive training in child and family therapy and in the identification and treatment of substance abuse and mental health disorders. Currently, she is focusing on writing in the fields of mental health and addictions, drawing on her prior experiences as an employee assistance program counselor, individual and family therapist, and assistant director of a child and family services agency.