It’s officially fall and harvest season. The leaves are falling, pumpkins are growing, and Thanksgiving is just around the corner. While these elements are usually enjoyable, other aspects of the fall season might not get you as excited.
With the fall months comes colder weather and shorter days — part of what causes seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Also known as seasonal depression, this condition can make the fall and winter challenging. Prioritizing your mental well-being at the start of the new season could potentially ease your symptoms. Keep these five tips in mind to nurture yourself and your mental health this fall season.
1. Set a Routine
Don’t let the new season change how you live your life. Having a big disruption can often trigger seasonal depression. This is why it can be so impactful to have a daily routine. A regular schedule can provide stability, regulate sleep patterns, and ensure exposure to natural light, which is crucial in managing the symptoms of SAD. (More on that later.) Additionally, setting goals, incorporating physical activity, and maintaining a social life within your routine can contribute to a more balanced and emotionally stable life.
Another important aspect of staying in charge of your mental well-being is to stay on track with any medication or treatment. If you haven’t considered taking mental health medication, take some time to think it over. Antidepressants like Lexapro or Zoloft can have huge benefits for your mental well-being, if deemed appropriate. These medications allow your nervous system to absorb more serotonin, which in turn helps you feel happier. This can give you a little extra boost in the cold months when you’re feeling worse than usual.
A routine can help you stay accountable to treatments. Set alarms or have a checklist to mark off when you take meds, so you don’t forget. Additionally, make yourself take your meds right then and there instead of leaving it for later. You’re more likely to forget a dose when you push it off.
2. Get Plenty of Light
As briefly mentioned above, SAD can be influenced by the amount of sunlight you’re exposed to. Since fall and winter days are shorter than summer and spring, there’s less daylight and more darkness. And because of the weather, you’re more likely to be spending more time indoors and out of the sun. These aspects of the season can affect your mood, making you feel gloomy, down, and overall more depressed.
To combat SAD’s symptoms, light therapy has proven highly useful for many people. This involves using a lightbox for a set amount of time each day, usually around 30 minutes. Lightboxes are like small lamps that contain up to 10,000 lux of light, essentially mimicking sunlight. However, these lamps emit significantly fewer UV rays, so it’s safer for your skin. Using this regularly may help relieve the severity of SAD during its peak.
3. Try Aromatherapy
There’s a reason why many people find lighting a scented candle to be so relaxing. Aromatherapy can be soothing, and it can even reduce symptoms of depressive disorders. You can practice your aromatherapy at home by using essential oils or candles. Place an essential oil diffuser or scented candle in the same room that you spend the most time in. If you work in an office, ask your employer if you can have one of these at work. Being able to breathe in these calming scents can help you feel more relaxed throughout the day.
Fall is perhaps one of the best times to pick up the practice of aromatherapy. Seasonal scents for fall are particularly delicious — pumpkin, cinnamon, apple, baked goods, spices, vanilla. You’ll have a plethora of yummy smells to choose from. On the other end of the spectrum, citrus fragrances like lemon, orange, and grapefruit are known for their uplifting and energizing properties. They can help combat feelings of lethargy and boost your mood, so you might lean toward that spiced orange candle.
4. Participate in Fun Fall Activities
It can be tempting to stay indoors when the weather gets colder and you’re not in a great mood. But don’t let yourself stay holed up in your home. This will only lead to worsened symptoms, as isolation leads to loneliness and rumination. Instead, use this season’s activities as a chance to connect with friends and family.
Fall is full of fun activities. Visit a pumpkin patch together or pick some apples and bake a pie from your harvest. Or, cozy up with some hot apple cider by the fireplace and share stories with each other. Surround yourself with people who make you happy and participate in activities that make you feel good. Making time for recreation and being social can also give your mood a boost during an otherwise gloomy season.
5. Improve Your Physical Health
Depressive disorders can actually weaken your immune system’s ability to fight disease and infection. Combining this weakened immunity with fall being cold and flu season increases your susceptibility to get sick. Nobody feels good when they’re sick, and this can wear down your mood, potentially worsening SAD symptoms. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to protect your physical health in order to protect your mental health.
So how do you beef up a weakened immune system? The short answer is to stay active, get enough sleep, hydrate, and eat a balanced diet. Improve your intake of vitamin C, whether through eating citrus fruits and leafy greens or through a supplement. This nutrient is well-known as an immunity booster and can help ward off sickness. Take care of yourself holistically to feel better mentally.
If you’re prone to seasonal depression or just feeling particularly down in the fall, make your well-being a priority. You don’t have to let the weather control your happiness. Put yourself first during this time in order to improve your mental health. Do activities that make you happy, consider treatment, and implement healthy behaviors. Remember that you’re not alone through this, and you’re stronger than you think.