Autumn is beautiful. I love the vibrant colours of the leaves, the distant scent of bonfires and chimney smoke, the soft patter of rain against the window.
Earlier this week, I shared some Autumn quotes that I feel encourage us to view this season with a growth mindset. We can follow the example of the trees, letting go of the old to make way for the new.
For me, Autumn ushers in a time of change for the better; a time to acknowledge the past but also to bid it farewell.
Nevertheless, I am not immune to the more difficult aspects of the season. The prolonged periods of darkness and the biting cold wind… it’s no wonder that many find this time of year somewhat disheartening.
But for some, disheartening isn’t the correct word.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (also know as SAD) is sometimes referred to as the “winter blues”, but I find this term quite dismissive. It’s a serious condition and can have devastating effects. Plus, SAD isn’t only an issue in winter – some people actually experience SAD in the summer months, finding relief during winter. Admittedly, SAD is more common in the colder months, but I don’t think the term “winter blues” should be used as a synonym for this disorder.
SAD is a type of depression. As such, if you believe you are experiencing symptoms of SAD, it’s a good idea to discuss this with your GP or a mental health professional. There are various treatment options, so please don’t suffer in silence.
Alongside this professional support, there are some self-help activities that can support and protect our mental health throughout Autumn and Winter.
To be clear: I am not a medical professional. Any tips or advice on this blog or my social media are suggestions only, based on my lived experience with mental illness and/or my own research. Please follow the advice of your GP (or other medical professional) in the first instance.
That being said, I strongly believe that self-help can effectively complement professional support. I have some ideas of things that I believe can help to make this dreary season a more enjoyable (or at least more bearable) experience for those of us who find it difficult.
These tips will not ‘cure’ SAD.
However, you may find that giving some of them a try could help to boost your mood, intercept distress, or offer a different perspective on how we view Autumn and Winter.
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This is a difficult one because as we all know, Autumn doesn’t necessarily bring much sunshine. However, in order to tackle SAD, it’s important to grab as much sunlight as we possibly can.
Even if it’s just spending a few minutes in the garden, or sitting by an open window, stealing those moments of sunshine can help to counter the effects of SAD.
As the sun hides away during the colder months, you may find it helpful to bring in an artificial supplement. Light boxes have been around for some time now and many users rate them highly in terms of their efficacy.
Light therapy, which includes sitting by a light box for 20-30 minutes each morning, is a medically-recognised treatment for SAD and some other conditions. However, you can easily purchase a light box of your own to use at any time.
Please note: Light therapy is not suitable for everyone. For example, some people with Bipolar Disorder may find that light therapy triggers mania, so please do your own research before trying it. You may wish to discuss this option with a medical professional as well.
Hygge (pronounced hyoo-guh) is a:
… Danish concept [that] cannot be translated to one single word but encompasses a feeling of cozy contentment and well-being through enjoying the simple things in life.CountryLiving
This concept has gained popularity beyond Denmark in recent years and we tend to associate it with Autumn and Winter.
Examples of Hygge might include: sipping a mug of hot chocolate, wearing comfortable pyjamas, being covered in fluffy blankets, scented candles, and sitting by the fire.
I enjoy Hygge – or as my lovely mother says, “getting hygge (read: higgy) with it”… I love her. We can’t change the darkness or the cold, but we can embrace it and go heavy on the cosy self-care during this time.
Of course, I’m not saying this will eliminate SAD. But I do think it can be beneficial to try to shift our focus from dreading the season to using it as an opportunity to take extra care of ourselves. We can’t necessarily (at least comfortably) wear our teddy-bear pyjamas and sit by the fire during the Summer, so it may be helpful to associate Autumn and Winter with these enjoyable, seasonal experiences.
Another useful tool in tackling SAD (or depression in general) is having a toolkit of distractions. I swear by distractions as a way of coping with particularly intrusive thoughts.
Now it’s important to understand the difference between distraction and avoidance. The aim of distraction is to redirect your thoughts and your focus during times of distress. It is then important to work through and/or get support for the underlying issue that triggered the distress, at a later time when you are not actively in distress, and can safely discuss the issue with a professional.
It’s not the best idea to just use endless distraction to avoid the underlying issue. Honestly, I did this, and it ultimately led to a massive, messy breakdown. Our brains can’t distract forever – it would be like being chased through the woods by a monster that’s always just behind us, and eventually, we will run out of steam. Distraction is a great tool for in the moment, but I would advise against using it as a long-term strategy.
So, how can we use distraction to tackle SAD? Well, as I mentioned earlier, the main point of distraction is to shift our focus, so I find it helpful to choose an activity that I can zone in to, but doesn’t require too much brain power – if I’m in distress, I get bad brain fog.
Colouring, watching videos on YouTube, or even writing ‘pointless’ lists in a notebook are some of my go-to distractions. They help to intercept the distressing thoughts and give me the chance to stabilise without using the unhelpful coping mechanisms I used in the past.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is a serious condition and should be recognised as such. Professional help is available and if you struggle with SAD, I really hope you are able to reach out for it.
I also hope that these self-help tips are a useful addition to the professional support you access. In my experience, engaging in self-help can give me the feeling that I have at least some control over my recovery journey. It gives me hope that it is a journey and that I won’t be stuck in the same place forever.
Do you have experience of Seasonal Affective Disorder?
What helps you through the Autumn and Winter months?
Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.