Does the transition to cooler weather and fewer daylight hours affect you (and not in a good way)?
We’ve just passed the Fall Equinox and here in the northern hemisphere, that means shorter days and longer nights. Less light, more darkness. For a lot of folks, this comes with a lot of challenging emotions.
As a psychotherapist, I have had many clients that are negatively impacted by seasonal transitions. I usually do a “Winter Blues” episode, but this year, especially with the state our world has been in, I thought it would be useful to offer you preventative strategies that you can start to put into place now before you find yourself down in the dumps.
If you regularly experience a negative shift in your mood around this time and the winter slump creeps in for you year after year, I have a couple of ideas for what you can do about it.
First, take a quick, honest inventory of the way you generally feel as the seasons shift from summer to fall/winter.
Do you find yourself complaining the minute it starts to get colder? Are you a warm weather person who gets bummed when it’s time to stow away your flip flops for the year? Do you dread winter and usually find yourself slacking on your normal routines when they come?
I have had many friends and clients who have found that their internalized attitudes and the stories they were telling themselves about the colder months were limiting them. In this case, a perspective shift can really improve your outlook and the way you experience winter. If it’s a habitual behavior, you have the power to change it.
That said, there may also be physiological and biochemical factors at play that you can’t just change your mind about. If you are debilitated in the winter months in a way that seriously impacts the quality of your life, you may suffer from seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D.).
According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of winter-onset S.A.D. can include:
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Loss of energy
- A physical, “heavy” feeling in the arms and legs
- Social withdrawal
- Oversleeping, yet still feeling exhausted
- Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Appetite changes, especially craving foods high in carbohydrates
- Weight gain
- Difficulty concentrating
If any of this sounds familiar, I encourage you to reach out to your doctor or therapist to talk about these symptoms and get a proactive treatment plan in place to help you cope as winter approaches.
I’m proud to have partnered with Better Help, an online therapy platform that matches you with a licensed and accredited mental health professional. If you’re interested in learning more, just go to terricole.com/betterhelp.
What’s the Vitamin D connection?
Numerous studies indicate that vitamin D may be helpful¹ for people suffering from seasonal affective disorder.
If you didn’t know, Vitamin D helps our bodies with calcium absorption (strong bones!) PLUS reduces inflammation, promotes healthy cell growth, boosts our neuromuscular and immune system function, and helps regulate our glucose metabolism.
That’s a lot for a vitamin that isn’t found in most foods! Our main source of Vitamin D is from the SUN. So, when there’s less sun and we’re indoors more (hello, winter, I see you), there’s less Vitamin D being produced in our bodies.²
You can get a simple blood test to determine your vitamin D level. I did this about 3 years ago because I was feeling exhausted, and yes, as it turned out I was deficient in good old vitamin D. I take a daily supplement now and it really does help. Your doc can recommend the right dosage for you.
Light therapy can help. There are specially-designed lamps and lightboxes whose rays mimic sunlight to help with the body’s vitamin D production. Studies have indicated that sitting in front of these lamps for as little as 30 minutes a day (particularly in the morning) can also affect brain chemicals linked to mood, thereby easing S.A.D. symptoms. As with any medical condition, consult with your doctor to get a proper diagnosis and discuss treatment options.
Time for a Reframe
Once you’ve ruled out or remedied seasonal affective disorder, it’s time to turn your focus to ways you can reframe your relationship to the winter months.
What do you get to do differently now that it’s this new season? Maybe it’s trying out new warming recipes and winter soups or getting into a new indoor or outdoor (we love to snowshoe and it’s awesome cardio) fitness routine. Winter can be a wonderful season for resting and going within, so commit to an earlier bedtime, simplify your social life, and create a cozy space to read, meditate, or just chill out.
Decide how you want to feel this season and then make choices and take actions that align with that desire! I have more suggestions for you inside this week’s downloadable cheat sheet, so be sure to grab that right here.
Practical Ways to Regulate That Dopamine Level
Dopamine is a chemical our body produces that regulates our moods, helps with concentration and motivation, and even impacts how we experience pleasure. In the winter, dopamine levels can fluctuate, so below, here are some things that can help level you out:
- Exercise at least 30 minutes every day. We need the endorphins (our feel-good hormones) that moving our bodies provides us naturally. There are so many free options available on YouTube or apps on your smartphone for almost every kind of exercise you can imagine with little to no equipment required. Try something new and find what you enjoy (because if you like it and it’s fun, you’re more likely to stick to it!) Dancing around to inspiring music is free, easy, and fun — and not to mention, can burn some serious calories.
- Meditation, Visualization, and Breathing. Every summer sunset, day at the beach, and lazy outdoor afternoon is just one visualization away. Since you have internalized all of these experiences, a dedicated meditation practice can help you consciously access them, and feeling the feelings can positively affect your brain chemistry. How cool is that?
Create a sacred space in your home that reminds you of all of the summer experiences you love and get your tush on the pillow for a few minutes a day. You may be amazed at how this lifts your mood. And if you need any help, I’ve included free resources for you inside this week’s guide to help you start and stick to a new practice of grounding yourself in your body and creating space to bask in the sunshine in your mind.
The best advice I have for you is to be proactive and start incorporating these things into your life NOW. If you wait until you’re in the doldrums of winter, it will be 10x harder to motivate yourself. Getting into a good groove of extreme self-care now will, I promise, pay off in the long run.
Listen, this year is different from any other year on the record because we’re all in this weird new reality of everything changing and of fear of the unknown. If you’re someone who leans towards anxiety, or if you hate change, we’ve had so many changes in the past six months that we’ve had no control over, and that’s tough.
You might be feeling a little down, a little blue, and you know, that’s OK. You get to decide what you’re willing to do to make it better. Right? Now is the time to do something differently. Don’t forget to grab your cheat sheet so you can get proactive about beating those blues, babe!
Set your intention on creating more radiance from the inside out and see what shifts by taking me up on some of these ideas. I would love to hear from you, so drop me a comment here or on Instagram @terricole or FB here. If this adds value, please share it with the people in your life.
Thank you so much for being a part of this crew. It is my great honor to serve you and connect with you, so if you have q’s for me or need help with something specific, let me know! I hope you have an amazing week and as always take care of you.