How to stop feeling like a sad person when fall comes
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Do you feel unreasonably sad when summer is over or are you one of those people that celebrates the coming of fall and winter? I’m the former, and there was a time in my life when I truly thought that people who loved fall had something wrong with them. Turns out, there was something amiss with me. If you feel the same way I do and mourn the end of summer, let’s talk about it.
Hello my lovelies and welcome to the Moving Toward Better podcast. I'm your host, Karen Bemmes, from Moving Toward Better dot com, and I'm here to help you lean into what makes you authentically you, so you can live your best life and let the rest go and today we’re talking about the seasonal blues, that moment when the seasons change, and your mood tanks, and you cannot figure out why people love the seasons you detest. When you do figure it out, though, it is such a game changer!
Look, we all have seasons we like more than others. I happen to love spring and summer. I have always said I would rather the temperature be 50 degrees over freezing rather than 10 degrees below. Everything about warmer, sunnier weather appeals to me, and I’ve never understood people who like fall and winter. It took me years to figure out that my dislike for the colder seasons had everything to do with my personal physiology, and this a subject I talk about every year at this time because figuring it out was life changing at minimum and potentially life saving because some years, my friend, the downward spiral was extraordinary.
A lot of what I’m going to talk about in this episode is based on an article by Health Research dot org titled 12 Notable Seasonal Affective Disorder Statistics, and I want to make it very clear that I am neither a medical professional nor a mental health professional, so everything that I discuss here is based on my own experiences and those that others have shared with me. If you suspect you or someone you know has Seasonal Affective Disorder or Seasonal Depression, please consult a medical or mental health professional immediately. Also, the link to the article is in the show notes if you want to read it for yourself.
So, for years I would dread the month of September. I detested the colder, rainy days of September and October and felt like the falling leaves each took a piece of my joy and happiness with them as they fell from the trees. The sound of crunching leaves that so many love was truly irritating to me and reminded me that as the leaves died, my vigor and energy levels dropped as quickly as the leaves. One year, I spent days laying on the couch, barely taking care of my home and struggling to take care of myself and my family, and that’s when I knew I had to do something.
Sometimes Dr Google is actually helpful, and for me, it definitely was in this case. I think I Googled, why am I always sad in the fall, and the answer changed my life forever. Up until then, I had never heard of the terms SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder, but when I looked at the symptoms, I knew I was onto something. SAD is directly related to the seasons. Some experience the symptoms from fall through winter and some through spring and summer.
It’s estimated that 3-6% Americans deal with SAD every year with another 10-20% having mild episodes. Worldwide, the statistics often correlate with how far north the country is with Norway having a higher incidence at 14%, which I’ll explain in a minute. Some people deal with it through non medical intervention and some require medication.
Some of the reasons people experience Seasonal Affective Disorder are biological, say someone in your family has it or some other mental health challenge, your vitamin D level drops because you live in a more northerly climate, the drop in daylight reduces your serotonin levels which makes sleep difficult which affects your melatonin levels and quality of sleep.
When this happens you find yourself becoming depressed or hopeless, either mildly or severely. You have a loss of energy and a surge of anxiety. You find yourself withdrawing and either oversleeping or undersleeping, eating more, gaining weight, having trouble concentrating and all of the issues you might normally have if you have adhd, but it’s like your adhd took steroids, and for me, it also included mood swings that went from angry to sad and crying very quickly.
Some of the other risk factors include simply being female, lovely, right? Already being diagnosed depressed or bipolar, living further from the equator and having much less daylight in the fall and winter months all can lend to Seasonal Affective Disorder too.
So what do you do if you think you have SAD? The first thing I would suggest is to head to your doctor to have your vitamin D level checked. Getting that right made such a difference for me because when SAD got really bad for me was in perimenopause, and my levels were very low. For those who don’t know, vitamin D controls the production and activity of estrogen and progesterone to keep these hormones balanced and also helps regulate insulin and blood sugar levels, so it’s a pretty big deal to have a healthy vitamin D level. It was certainly a game changer for me. That one thing started turning things around for me, but it wasn’t the whole answer.
The thing is that when we would get to the middle of October I felt completely uncomfortable in my own skin. It was maddening, and one year while talking to my doctor about it, I realized something. When I was younger, I used to take vacation in October and February every year and head to warmer climates. I was never a huge beach fan, but I loved being at the beach in those months. The feeling of the sun and warmth truly felt like it healed my soul. That’s when I realized the light was as important as the vitamin D levels because I was supplementing the vitamin, but I wasn’t supplementing the light; enter my husband.
One year for Christmas, my husband handed me the biggest present he’d ever bought. Usually he got me something nice, but it was a gift card to a place I loved or something that he knew I would enjoy. This particular year, when he handed me his gift, he said he hoped I would understand why he bought what he bought and that I would be happy about it. When I opened it, it was a full spectrum light box. If you don’t know what that is, it’s something that you sit in front of and it simulates sunlight. It’s safer than a sunlamp but has a similar effect. I had been looking at them online but hesitated because they can be pricey, and it seemed frivolous to spend that kind of money on something that might not work, but here was my chance to try it out. I thanked my husband then because I knew he only wanted me to feel better, and I continue to thank him every year I get it out and put it away because it is one of the gifts that I use every year, and it helps me be a better wife, mother and human being, so what’s not to like about that? The link to the one I have is in the show notes. You can either visit the Moving Toward Better Amazon Store or the Gifts to lift you up when you’re feeling down tab.
Those two things are the biggest helpers for me, but there are a few others that I find extremely helpful too. First, I take the supplement Sam-e for mood regulation. I started taking it with doctor approval, and I only take it for part of the year. When spring comes, I put it away until fall. I do the same with vitamin D, although I go from a higher to a lower dose for that. All of my treatments were discussed with my doctor, so please do the same for yourself because even something as simple as light therapy can mess with other medications if you take them. I don’t take any pharmaceuticals, so the light therapy was an easy add.
Other easy adds are getting outside and taking advantage of the natural light during daytime hours, surrounding yourself in your home with things that make you happy, decluttering when you have the energy and focus, eating healthy foods that you enjoy and eating them in ways that make you happy aka make pretty plate, move your body daily in ways that bring you joy, whether that’s a walk, a dance party or playing with your animals, your children or your grandchildren if you have them.
If you’re willing to go a little “out there” you can try acupuncture, meditation, quiet and guided, yoga and massage therapy. I am a huge proponent of meditation, and I add journaling as well, especially gratitude journaling if you’re feeling particularly low. It isn’t easy, but it does change your perspective for the better, and I have one more unconventional one to add, movies and tv shows that are uplifting. I repeat, they have to be uplifting. I know the temptation to watch sad things when you’re feeling low, but I am begging you to fight that. Need some suggestions? Ted Lasso is worth paying for Apple TV to watch. Yes, it has some language, but that show is the closest to perfection I have ever watched,and all three seasons are now available. If you like cooking, The Great British Baking Show or Bake off as they call it in the UK, is terrific. If you’ve never watched it, I highly encourage you to, and again, there are several seasons to watch. This one might throw you a bit because it’s a cartoon, but Bluey is one of the best shows out there. It makes the kids happy, and there are adult themes that completely go over the kids’ heads that parents enjoy. In addition, I just found out that there is a hidden tennis ball and a hidden dachshund in every episode, so it’s slightly interactive as well. There are literally thousands of shows to choose from, and if you have Netflix, there are also a bunch of comedy specials too. The possibilities are endless, but by choosing those options, you make the days that you end up on the couch a positive experience rather than one to judge yourself over.
I mean that. When you have those couch days, and you know what I mean when I say that, fill yourself with good input and call it a mental health tonic because when you’re to that point, you deserve to treat yourself well. You really do.
Other ways to cope if you have the means
One of the easiest things to do when you start to feel the “veil drop” as I call it is to isolate yourself. You know you’re in a funk, and you don’t want to inflict your “ick” on others, so you stay away from them. That’s where your SAD lies to you because it convinces you that no one wants to be around you when you’re like this. The lie is that you’re like this. You’re feeling down, and when you’re around people who truly care about you, it lifts you up. Whether it’s a cup of coffee or your favorite beverage, lunch, dinner or a night out doing something fun, get out with those who love you. I promise it will help you, especially if you let them know you’re feeling “off”.
One of the things I naturally did before I even knew what SAD was included taking those October and February vacations. If you have the means, head for the sun, even if it’s only for a long weekend. Some of us love the mountains. Some love the beach and others love the woods. Whatever you love, get there and get as much sun as you can, using your sunscreen of course. Even if you go by yourself, it helps. I promise.
This one is going to make some of you cringe, but you need to take care of yourself. Full transparency, I sucked at this for most of my life. I was convinced that everyone needed more than me, and I prided myself on being low maintenance, sometimes to my own detriment. SAD showed me that I had to take care of myself to take care of others. The thing that I found out is that when you don’t fill your own cup, what comes out of it is bitter and tainted, but when you fill your cup while you pour, what comes out is pure and sweet and life-giving to you and those you pour into. Think of it this way. When you take care of yourself in the best ways, you teach your loved ones to create a healthy balance in their own lives, and that breaks some pretty unhealthy habits and generational ickiness, which may have been the greatest lesson I got from dealing with my own Seasonal Affective Disorder.
One other important thing I learned was to listen to my body. Some years I start coping earlier than others. This year, while I usually up my vitamin D dose over the first weekend in September, I started a couple of weeks early because I could almost feel that fall was coming. I still haven’t gotten out my light because I haven’t needed it, but as soon as I feel the dip coming, you bet I’ll be getting it out.
One of the best things about Seasonal Affective Disorder is how many things you can do to help yourself, and the more you take charge of things, the better you’ll do through the fall and winter, and as I always say, if the plans and coping skills you have aren’t working, contact your doctor or mental health practitioner to make a new plan. It’s what you pay them for and what they truly want to help you with.
Speaking of helping, I am currently helping people declutter their homes and offices, and there’s still plenty of time to join us. We’ll be decluttering daily, Monday through Friday, September 18th through September 29th. You’re welcome to continue over the weekend, but I don’t currently plan to go live for that. You can join that by going to the Moving Toward Better dot com home page and click the Declutter Challenge Signup in the upper right hand corner. When we’ve done this in the past, we’ve had a great time. I know that sounds weird, but we really do, and our homes look better too. Winner winner chicken dinner!
We’ll take 15 minutes each day Monday through Friday to work somewhere in our homes to declutter, work on a project we’ve been procrastinating on and give ourselves some awesome momentum. The side benefit is you get to prepare your home for the holiday season long before it becomes a stressor in your life. I am constantly amazed what you can accomplish in 15 minutes per day, especially when you build on the success of the day before, and why two weeks? Because I’ve found that many people hit a stumbling block in the third week of decluttering or working on a project, myself included, so when we work for a couple of weeks and give ourselves some time to catch up emotionally, we tend to keep going rather than getting frustrated and burned out. So, head over to the Moving Toward Better website today and sign up for our email community and make sure you get all the upcoming information for this declutter challenge.
Part of why I talk about SAD at this time of year is because September is suicide prevention month, and often when people deal with things like Seasonal Depression or SAD, they think their issues are much less important, but I’m here to tell you that they’re not. By trying to ignore your symptoms, you merely shove things down, and they can easily show up in unhealthy ways like yelling at those you love most and being angry at people for seemingly no reason. It isn’t pretty, and there are so many things you can do about it.So, if you’re someone who deals with seasonal issues, what do you do about it? If you have additional solutions, I would love to hear them, and if you want to get your home in shape with daily encouragement, go to Moving Toward Better dot com and press the button in the upper right hand corner to join the declutter challenge. There’s still time to get plenty accomplished and have fun with it.
Until next time, keep moving toward better and shining your light as brightly as you can. Love you all!
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Article from healthresearchfunding.org: 12 Notable Seasonal Affective Disorder Statistics - HRF (healthresearchfunding.org)
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