Why You Are Experiencing Seasonal Blues & What You Can Do About It
Now that the days are growing shorter and we are exposed to less sunlight and warmth, we find we have less energy, motivation and our mood has taken a dive. Everywhere I turn I hear that people are feeling fatigue, stressed and feeling overwhelmed; little annoyances are getting to them more than normal. They can't put their finger on what exactly it is but they just a feel a bit…meh!
What is this down feeling all about?
Feeling low or down at this point of the year has got many people labelling themselves as suffering from the ‘Autumn Blues’ or ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder’ (SAD). Symptoms can range from mood swings, fatigue, irritability, stress, being in a despondent mood to temporary periods of depression. Some even experience physical symptoms such as weight gain, change in appetite, cravings, muscle tension and digestive issues.
Usually there’s no actual reason that justifies this low feeling other than the lack of light and the cold weather affecting our mood.
Now we obviously can’t control the weather or the fact that we can't squirrel ourselves away and hibernate. However, there are steps that we can all take towards protecting our mental health and lifting our mood at this time of the year.
Tip #1 - Increase exposure to natural light
I know when I was teaching, I rarely saw sunlight during the week. I got into school before sunrise and then left after sundown. If I was lucky I might be able to catch 15 minutes of natural light when I was on duty a couple of times a week but it really wasn’t enough. I felt exhausted, moody and my immune system really took a hit.
This happens because our circadian rhythm, which is in charge of our wake-sleep cycle, becomes out of sync when we’re not exposing ourselves to natural sunlight.
Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist, states
“Getting sunlight in your eyes first thing in the morning is absolutely vital to mental and physical health. It is perhaps the most important thing that any and all of us can and should do in order to promote metabolic well-being, promote the positive function of your hormone system, get your mental health steering in the right direction.”
The exposure to sunlight triggers the release of cortisol (a stress hormone), which acts as a signal for us to wake-up, making us feel more alert and able to focus during the day. It also initiates a timer for the release of melatonin later in the day, which we need to be able to fall asleep.
So upon waking, make a coffee or tea and go outside for a couple of minutes - unfortunately looking through the window doesn’t count as the wavelengths of blue light that are essential for stimulating the eyes and switching on that wake-up signal are filtered out. If you're rushed to get outside first thing in the day, then at least plan some time into your day to be outside to get some exposure to natural light (just remember to avoid looking directy into the sun).
Tip #3 - Invest in a SAD lamp
If you find that you can’t get yourself outside then it may be worth investing in a SAD lamp. They can easily be purchased online but make sure you are choosing one that is made specifically for treating SAD. The idea behind the lamps is that they emit light similar to that found in daylight, which helps to regulate melatonin and increase levels of serotonin (a feel good, happy chemical). I like the lumie lamps and have had great reviews from a number of my clients who have them.
Tip #3 - Develop better sleep patterns
Sleep plays such an important role in all our body's functions and processes and the best way to prepare your mind and body for sleep is to have a good bedtime routine in place.
To do this try to go to bed at the same time every night and give yourself plenty of time to wind down at the end of the evening. Avoid electrical devices at least two hours before bed and opt to calm your mind with a book or guided relaxation.
At this time of the year you're also probably feeling extra tired and reaching for more coffee to keep you awake. But this can actually wreck havoc on your internal sleep clock (even if you think you are falling asleep easily - you won't be getting quality sleep!). If you can't quit completely, limit the amount of caffeine you consume after midday and opt for caffeine-free herbal teas instead.
Tip #4 - Shake up your routine
After the excitement of the summer where you no doubt had a jam-packed schedule with holidays, weddings and days out planned, autumn can feel a little lacklustre. At this time of the year it can feel like your daily routine becomes quite monotonous – you get up, go to work, come home, sort the kids out and go to bed. You’re less inclined to want to go out because it’s cold and you’re tired.
But it's really important that you schedule activities so that you have something to look forward to. Make plans to see friends and family. As humans we're better in a tribe and interacting with the people we like gives us a boost of those feel good chemicals.
Getting outside in the fresh air does us wonders too; it helps reduce stress, lowers blood pressure and ignites our senses, making us more present. If you don’t fancy going out then perhaps arrange a girls' night in, video call with friends to catch up, find an online exercise class on YouTube or try out a new activity like crafting or baking.
Tip #4 - Take cold showers
I know, not what you want to hear as it sounds counterintuitive! But hear me out...
Taking a cold shower in the morning can actually boost your energy. If you can’t bring yourself to jump in a cold shower right away then turn off the hot tap at the end of your usual hot shower and see if you can gradually build up the amount of time you spend under the cold water.
When the cold water touches your skin it activates your sympathetic nervous system and releases cortisol, making you feel more awake. Spending just a couple of minutes can leave you feeling more energetic, happy, increase your immunity and actually results in you being less sensitive to the cold the rest of the day.
Tip #5 - Eat warm, nutritious foods
Don’t beat yourself up about maintaining that diet! In the summer it's slightly easier to eat healthy, light foods like salads and smoothies. But as the weather gets colder, our bodies crave more substinance. This is because our metabolism drops making us feel tired and fatigued. It’s really important to boost our metabolism first thing in the morning by eating a good breakfast and having warm, hearty foods like stews, casseroles and soup.
Tip #6 - Increase levels of Vitamin D
Vitamin D levels are closely linked to our mood and contribute to the function of our immune system function. When we're in the darker, colder months of the year we’re more likely to have a vitamin D deficiency so it’s important to have your levels checked regularly and supplement with vitamin D if necessary.
Tip #7 - Focus on what's going well
Taking time to reflect on the good things each day, will give you a boost of serotonin. The more you do this, the more it will train the reticular activating system (RAS) in your brain to look for more good things. I like to write my 'what's been goods' in a journal but even spending a couple of minutes at the end of each day thinking about them will have a positive impact on your mood.
Tip #8 - Give yourself permission to rest
If you are feeling as though things are getting on top of you and you are lingering on the edge of illness and fatigue, then give yourself permission to rest. You are not lazy or wasting time by resting.
Rest is actually a form of self-care. It's an opportunity for our nervous system to calm down and when we return to doing, we are actually able to focus better, be more productive and efficent, and overall be happier.
Tip #9 - Talk about it
Whatever you do, don’t bottle up how you are feeling and suffer in silence. I can guarantee you are not the only one feeling this way. Talk to friends or family about how you’re feeling and arrange to do something exciting with them to uplift your mood.
If you are feeling that the autumn blues, SAD or your depression is getting out of hand and you've been suffering for more than two weeks then I would recommend you seek professional help. There are a number of treatments that the NHS recommend including light therapies and talk therapies.
Many medical practitioners are now recommending Solution Focused Hypnotherapy because it is gentle form of therapy that can have you feeling back to yourself in as little as a 4 weeks. If you would like to know more about how I can help, click on the button below to arrange a free informal telephone call.