Seasons of Mental Health
If you’re like me and many others, you may feel affected as the seasons change throughout the year. It is not uncommon to notice mild or more severe changes in how you feel and function in the midst of smoky, brown heat domes and cloudy, grey cold snaps.
Some people experience noticeable changes in themselves as fall and winter approach. For me, I feel affected as soon as the time changes in November and we lose an hour of daylight. Other people notice changes when the real first cold and snow comes, or after 6 or 8 weeks of winter have passed. Some common seasonal side effects:
- Anxiety or feeling stressed;
- Less energy, motivation and interest in usual activities;
- Lethargy (sluggishness) and apathy (an emotional numbness)
- Changes in appetite, sexual interest, eating habits and sleeping habits;
- Inflammatory response – resulting in pain, stiffness and/or exacerbation of other health conditions.
Some people experience enough of the above that they can be diagnosed with, or may identify with, Seasonal Affective Disorder. We can understand this to be like an episodical seasonal depression and/or anxiety. Some people experience this every year. People can also experience seasonal side effects from ongoing rain and persistent summertime forest fire smoke, droughts, and heat domes.
We can understand these seasonal side effects to be contributed to by the following:
Changes in our routine/schedules: self-care like sleep, rituals, exercise, diet, activities, socializing and work are all affected by the seasons and their weather. They can be thrown off balance. And we have to adapt – or try to! This can cause stress and less than hoped for outcomes in our wellness.
- Daylight: there is a direct connection between daylight – or better yet, sunlight – and mood.
- Weather, temperature and moisture: having our bodies and minds manage extreme temperatures and weather events takes a toll. It can be exhausting, and even scary! Additionally, moisture, humidity, and pressure can all affect inflammation.
So what can we do to mitigate the impact or even prevent, these seasonal side effects?
- As much as possible, maintain your wellness or self-care routine: continue your exercise, sleep hygiene, hobbies and other activities, and get creative and resourceful in finding ways to adapt while still pursuing a semblance of structure or stability. You may have to let go of some rigidity – which is great for our mental health in the long run, as we will have to respond to other adversities in the future.
- Seek out support or connection: you are not the only one facing the current season/weather!
- Talk to your doctor and/or other health care providers who may have suggestions within the context of your unique health situation.
- Practice mindfulness: this can help us take our experiences one day at a time, and manage dwelling or worry.
I look forward to supporting you in further understanding how seasonal or other life changes or factors may impact your mental health, and finding ways towards meaningful experiencing and functioning amidst them.
Louise Chursinoff is a registered nurse and Masters-level, clinically trained registered social worker. Her dual knowledge base and skill set, and passion for whole-self wellness, guides her in supporting people towards understanding and taking care of each part of their self.