CC Image courtesy of ClevrCat on Flickr
Fall can be an amazing time in San Francisco, when we finally get a few weeks of dependably sunny days and warmer weather- maybe even shorts weather, for those bold enough. Fall can also be an dynamic time in general, with many changes in the pipeline and things to look forward to- the World Series, better surf, and a new year, as examples. But fall going into winter can also be a time when many people notice their energy levels shift down, and moods darken. This is often referred to as “Seasonal Depression”. It is thought that seasonal depression happens because of less availability of daylight, in those of us who are prone to it. Symptoms of this fall-onset depression include less energy overall, poor concentration, sleeping and eating more, irritability, interpersonal conflict, and sometimes a heavy or leaden feeling. These symptoms can really impact our work performance and productivity, personal relationships, and overall self-confidence.
Besides changes in our environment, many people dread this time of year and the feelings it evokes because of the holidays. Holidays can be really hard for many reasons, although saying that out loud is sometimes unpopular. Holidays are like a bookmark for each previous year, and they can remind us of previous holidays- times in our lives we might rather not remember, or on the flip side, nostalgia for people or relationships we miss dearly. Holidays can also put a great deal of social pressure on us- pressure to spend money and buy things, visit family members we may not get on so well with, go to work events and impress colleagues, bring dates, dress up and look good, cook and decorate like Martha Stewart, and after it’s all over, make annual resolutions of how to do it all even better. It’s a lot.
With these things in mind, you may want to craft your own “Seasonal Survival Guide” to take care of yourself during the fall into winter transition. Here are a few ideas you can incorporate into your game plan:
- Spend more time outdoors to become accustomed to seasonal changes. It can be jarring and disheartening, especially if you work inside, to realize as you exit that it’s already dark out. It’s depressing and makes you feel like you missed something important. Use your break to take a walk outside and notice the temperature and light outdoors to become familiar with and appreciate the climate. And if you aren’t taking a break…take one!
- Plan some pleasant activities. It may sound tiresome to plan fun things because the act of planning removes spontaneity, but specifically scheduling activities that you will enjoy makes it much more likely that these things will get done. It also gives you something to look forward to in your week. Plan something that feels personal to you- maybe you really love baking, or going out with a friend, or taking your dog to the beach, or reading a novel, or getting in some early christmas shopping. During this season, put pleasant activities into your calendar just as you would work commitments.
- Establish boundaries early for the holidays. We all know the things around holidays that feel the most stressful to us. Check in with yourself about what tends to be the most stressful for you. Maybe you do like visiting your partner’s family in Minnesota, but the annual five days in a row seems daunting. Negotiate boundaries for yourself ahead of time- maybe you tell your partner you would love to go, but three days would really be better for you, and make you more pleasant to be around. Or, you may know that when the holidays come around you feel lonely every year, because you don’t have many family members of your own. This year, make specific and early plans to join a good friend’s holiday, or get out of town and go somewhere you really love. (Insider tip: San Francisco is actually a great place to relax during the actual holidays, as people leave in droves to go back to hometowns.)
- Be mindful of indulgence. This is a time of year when eating and drinking alcohol to excess is not only more likely, but socially encouraged. We are also more likely to indulge when depressed during the fall and winter months. Eating healthy throughout the holiday season sounds like a bummer, so I won’t say eat kale at every meal. But. Just be aware that overindulging in food, and especially alcohol, can contribute to poor self-esteem, poor sleep, low energy, rebound anxiety, and depressed mood, not to mention hangovers and poor work performance. Make a game plan for when it seems worth it to treat yourself, as opposed to doing it because you’re miserable and looking for something to soothe yourself.
- Get some consistent exercise. I know, I know, you hear it all the time, you’re probably sick of hearing it. But exercise is one of the cheapest, easiest and best mood lifters available to us. If it feels like a burden to think of it as a path to weight loss or some kind of personal improvement project, instead, think of it solely as a tool to stave off depression and anxiety. I won’t absolutely guarantee much, but I will guarantee that frequent, sweaty exercise (ANY kind) will improve your mood and self-confidence and reduce your daily (and bedtime) anxiety.
These are some tips, but I encourage you to come up with your own personalized strategy for Fall/Winter 2014. If you put it into place and commit to it, you might even have a really good time.