As we say goodbye to summer and hello to the colder months, many people are reaching into their closets and getting their wardrobes ready for winter. Are you doing the same kind of preparation for your mental health?
Though Seattle is not as rainy as other parts of the country (looking at you Kauai and Mobile, Alabama), it does get an average of 154 rain days a year, most of which fall between October and May. Translation: we’re about to begin a long, wet, grey season.
Here are 5 steps I am taking as a psychotherapist to make sure that I am coming into fall in the best mental health state as possible:
Exercising regularly. I am not a huge fan of gyms but I do know that when I exercise 3-5 times a week, just like my doctor recommends, I have more energy, sleep better and feel less stressed. Studies show that exercise helps alleviate the symptoms of anxiety, depression and grief so I am committing to stay active even as the weather changes.
Maintaining a helpful sleep schedule. Speaking of sleep, though I am a morning person and don’t need a lot of zzz’s to feel rested, I also know that the lack of sunlight in the colder months tricks my body into thinking it’s tired - and sad - even if I need to be alert and present for hours to come. One of the key tenets of sleep hygiene, a helpful and respected cognitive behavioral health concept for getting more rest, is going to bed and waking up at a consistent time - even on weekends. I know that getting the rest I need will help my moods and clarity stay light throughout the fall and winter. Learn more about sleep hygiene and how to make better sleeping habits here.
Get Vitamin D. Vitamin D is a nutrient and hormone that helps grow and maintain healthy bones. Additionally, Vitamin D has been shown to help alleviate depression. Though Vitamin D is naturally occurring, it’s hard to get the amount you need through food alone. The best way is either getting exposure to direct sunshine (while using sunscreen and other covering to protect your skin) or by taking Vitamin D supplements. This means that I will be outside as much as possible whenever the sun is shining this fall and I will be picking up a new bottle of Vitamin D pills promptly. Ask your doctor if taking Vitamin D supplements is right for you.
Do not isolate! It’s easy for me to use cold and wet weather as an excuse not to see people I care about or to leave my home for that matter. However, though hours of Netflix might sound relaxing in the moment, I know that continuing to foster relationships and be with my community goes a much longer way to reminding me that I am loved and needed. Though depression and anxiety can make it difficult to be social, coaxing yourself into being in safe, supportive places actually helps rewire your brain into more positive, happier moods.
Practice gratitude. My excuse for why I hate being cold is that my ancestors were from hot places. I’m not built for northern winters. The cold combined with the busy nature of fall can make it easy for me to get grumpy so I will be making it a priority to write down at least three nouns (people, places and things) that I am grateful for every single day. Research and my personal experience shows that practicing gratitude allows people to be more attuned to the details of our lives, feel more happiness and be more optimistic. According to this article from UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, gratitude also has significant physical and social benefits.
What steps are you taking to make this a healthy, happy season?