Summer is my favorite time of year, which is partly why autumn makes me sad. I love all that summer has to offer, including the long days, cooking outside, and weekend excursions like hiking and trips to the beach. But as August draws to a close, the leaves begin to fall and the sun is a bit less bright, I have to work on ways to keep my spirits up. Autumn sadness or the “autumn blahs” is a real thing for many people, and these changes in mood aren’t just about being sad for the end of summer.
Why Does Autumn Make You Sad?
A variety of factors may cause us to experience autumn sadness. These include a change in routine, stress over the impending holidays, or a desire to extend our summer. But severe autumn sadness may be Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a recognized condition that impacts an estimated 10 million Americans per year, and is four times more common in women than in men, says Psychology Today.
SAD symptoms are like those of clinical depression and include:
- difficulty concentrating
- feelings of hopelessness
- lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- reduced interest in sex
- changes in appetite or weight
To be diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder, you must meet the criteria for major seasonal depression for at least two years, says the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH).
The Mayo Clinic explains that autumn sadness or the more severe SAD could be triggered by a few different factors. Reduced sunlight can lead to a change in our circadian rhythm and lower serotonin levels that can produce depressive feelings.
Additionally, seasonal changes can interfere with our body’s melatonin levels, which impact our mood and how we sleep.
Insufficient Vitamin D levels in response to reduced sunlight also may play a role in anxiety and reduced mood.
1. Tell Your Doctor
There is no need to suffer in silence or feel ashamed about your sadness. Tell your doctor so that she can determine whether you may need further intervention, such as antidepressant medication and counseling. Your doctor may also suggest other natural ways to improve your mood.
2. Exercise Outdoors
As the days grow shorter it can be more challenging to get outside for physical exercise. But doing so will boost your mood and reduce depression, says the American Council on Exercise. A simple mid-day walk can do wonders to improve your energy and your outlook. If autumn sadness or SAD has caused you to gain weight, regular exercise can also help with weight loss. If you can’t get outside, try an indoor workout to boost your spirits.
3. Eat a Healthy Diet
A healthy diet, high in fruits, vegetables, whole grain, and proteins, and low in refined carbohydrates is essential for energy and maintaining a healthy weight. But did you know that it can also impact your mood?
A 2016 study found a high-glycemic load (high in refined carbs) diet was associated with higher depression symptoms, total mood disturbance, and fatigue compared to a low-glycemic diet. You should avoid refined carbs in foods like white bread, pasta, tortillas, and white rice. Even seemingly healthy foods like flavored yogurt, smoothies, and granola contain refined carbs that can adversely impact your mood. So, stick to the basics like whole grain bread, brown rice, fruits, and vegetables, which contain low-glycemic (complex) carbs that can stabilize both your energy levels and mood.
4. Maintain Healthy Vitamin D Levels
NIMH acknowledges low Vitamin D levels are sometimes associated with clinically significant depression and SAD. Vitamin D is absorbed through sunshine, so it makes sense that low levels would be associated with the autumn blahs. But NIMH also explains Vitamin D supplementation is not thought to be an effective treatment for SAD due to mixed results in controlled studies. Some studies indicate that Vitamin D is just as effective as light therapy in treating SAD, while others suggest it is not effective at all.
The best way to decide whether Vitamin D is right for you is to have your doctor perform a blood test to determine whether you are Vitamin D deficient. If your Vitamin D levels are too low, supplementation is an effective treatment to bring them back to normal. You can decide whether it positively impacts your mood.
5. Try Light Therapy
Light therapy is a treatment that calls for using a lightbox or light visor you wear on your head for a time each day to mimic natural sunlight. Light therapy, also known as bright light therapy or phototherapy, is believed to affect brain chemicals that impact mood and sleep. Not only is it used to treat SAD, but it is also used to treat general depression, jet lag, dementia, and sleep disorders, explains the Mayo Clinic.
6. Use a Dawn Simulator
Everyone hates waking up to the abrupt and startling sound of an alarm. Enter dawn simulators! These devices are natural light alarm clocks that wake you up gradually starting from 30 minutes to two hours before your wake-up time by simulating the rising sun. These may be as effective as light therapy at treating depressive symptoms, according to Psychiatric Times. So, you never have to jump out of your skin to your alarm clock ever again!
7. Use Aromatherapy
Essential oils are compounds extracted from plants, and they are wonderful during a massage. One can’t help feeling more alive with the smell of eucalyptus wafting through their nostrils. And according to the Journal of Natural Medicine, essential oils from the poplar tree also were found to favorably impact depressive disorders. Other essential oils believed to help treat anxiety and depression are sandalwood and jasmine.
8. Give Yourself a Break
Remember to take time for yourself when things get stressful. Whatever is worrying you can wait. Taking a bath, going for a walk, or engaging in a daily meditation practice can quell anxiety and lift your mood.
Self-care makes us feel safe, loved, and worthy of love. Care for yourself like you would a close friend, and you’ll see the results in your mind, body, and spirit.
9. Avoid Taking On Too Much
It can be so hard to set boundaries and say “no” when we are asked to help out. Whether it’s taking on a new project at work, volunteering to organize the next charity food drive, or babysitting the grandkids, we want that feel-good reward that comes with helping others. But over-extending ourselves can take its toll on our mental health, making us more exhausted and less productive than had we been more careful about saying “yes.”
Psychology Today recommends asking for more time before saying “yes” to allow us the opportunity to evaluate what is most important. We should ask ourselves whether the task or project is the right fit right now, preserves our self-care, and aligns with our values and goals. We should also assess the risks and benefits. Once we’ve had time to analyze the request, we should only take on tasks that make sense for us.
Whether autumn makes you sad or you have SAD, these 9 ways to help you beat the autumn blahs should help to boost your mood. Most important on this list is consulting your doctor if you consistently have any of the signs and symptoms of depression, as these recommendations are no substitute for professional medical care.
For another mood booster, check out these posts about autumn from my midlife blogging friends!
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