Seasonal Mood Changes
As a therapist working in Canada for many years now, I have noticed patterns in how the mood and energy levels of my clients change throughout the year and alongside the seasons. The most consistent and reliable pattern I have noticed is a decrease in mood and energy as fall hits and we start moving into winter. The flip side of this is also true, with mood and energy often increasing as summer hits. Given our current transition to fall, this article will focus on the relevant seasonal shifts in mood we are likely to experience.
For some folks, these shifts are severe enough to warrant a diagnosis of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). About 2-3% of Canadians will experience symptoms severe and long-lasting enough to warrant a SAD diagnosis at some point in their life. However, for most of us, these shifts do not interfere with our daily functioning, but they do make life feel harder. The prevalence of the latter is approximately 15% of Canadians.
As summer comes to an end, we see cooler temperatures and a decrease in daylight hours and sunlight intensity. These factors often lead to less time spent outdoors and less time socializing, both of which are activities that are strongly correlated to improvements in mood and energy. Given these facts, it’s really no surprise that people’s moods and energy tend to drop as we head into fall and winter! So, what can be done about it?
Notice & Acknowledge The Mood Changes
Sometimes, just noticing that this is a pattern for yourself can help you to cope with the change. Reminding yourself that this is your body’s natural and cyclical response to shifts in your environment can help relieve the shame, confusion, or fear you might be experiencing about what your low mood means.
Creating awareness of these patterns helps to set reasonable and helpful expectations. Maybe you give yourself permission to be less productive in the fall and winter, allow yourself to move a little slower, take a little longer. Perhaps your priorities shift towards coziness, creativity, or recharging and away from producing and doing. Acknowledge how your needs change with the seasons, just like literally every other living creature around you!
Caring for Yourself
Just like we have to care for our bodies differently according to our environment (e.g., sunscreen in the summer, mittens in the winter, rain boots in the spring), we should be taking care of our emotional selves in accordance with our environment, too.
Perhaps you need to go to bed a bit earlier or give yourself more time in the morning with a cup of hot tea or coffee to fully wake up. Maybe you need to bundle up and spend a few minutes soaking up the sunlight outdoors and breathing fresh air. Or better yet, find a warm window to sit beside to get those rays. Maybe you even listen to different music, watch different movies, and engage in different hobbies that allow you to better enjoy the season & weather!
Vitamin D plays a crucial role in our health and is just as essential for our mental health as it is for our physical health. Humans synthesize vitamin D through access to UV B rays, which are severely limited for those of us living in high-latitude environments during the winter. With the lack of available sunlight to support our vitamin D requirements, we have to get creative! Vitamin D levels can be boosted through supplements, by eating foods that are naturally high in vitamin D, or by light box therapy. Please consult with your doctor or nutritionist first!
Caring for yourself differently is necessary but not sufficient. Community care is just as impactful as self-care; some might even argue that it is more impactful!
You might have to be extra diligent about tending to your social calendar and connecting with friends and loved ones. Socializing is often one of the first things to go when we start to feel down, but connecting with safe and trusted others is one of the best ways to boost mood and energy. Keep in mind you don’t have to talk about your mood or your feelings; you can just hang out!
Connecting with professionals is another helpful way to get that community support. Your doctor or a psychiatrist can help with things like diagnosis and medications. But diagnosis or not, you deserve professional support!
Seeking support from a therapist is another impactful act of community care. A therapist can spend more in-depth time exploring your concerns and collaborating with you on possible strategies. They will help you identify patterns in your mood and emotional well-being, help you shift the ways you care for yourself, and support any deep emotional work that might come up as you navigate living with low mood and energy. As a bonus, if you connect with a therapist in the fall, you’ll beat the New Year’s resolution crowd!
If cyclical patterns of mood and energy shifting with the seasons feel familiar to you, and you want a little more support, one of our wonderful counsellors at Calgary Counselling a Psychology Centre would be happy to work with you through all the seasons in your life!