Is it just me, or does Fall seem to be everyone’s favorite time of year? The hopefulness of temperatures dropping to comfortable levels aka “sweater weather,” posts on social media about pumpkin/Halloween decor/seasonal Starbucks beverages, and, of course, football season! It is definitely normal and natural to be excited about the seasonal transitions, but I also feel that this time of year is met with some challenges.
I, like many of you, enjoy this time of year for the reasons listed above and yet I always seem to forget some of the downsides. This might include the sunlight dwindling away earlier and earlier each night, the first morning where it feels just too cold out to convince myself to exercise, and the upcoming holiday stress. These changes can cause avoidant behaviors and can ultimately affect mental health… thus starts an unwanted depressive cycle. It can start slow but then you’ll realize that maybe you haven’t been out of the house in a while, or only for work; you’ll recognize thoughts like ‘Hmm… I don’t need to shower today, that can wait;” perhaps you’ll look around your home and notice small messes starting to pile up. You might tell yourself you’ll go to the gym tomorrow or do that load of laundry this weekend, and yet it feels harder and harder to be motivated and now you’re also overwhelmed with these tasks. How can you make it better?
There is this great concept that stems from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) called Behavioral Activation (BA). The foundation of it is simply, if you change your behaviors then your mental state can improve. Behaviors create habit and humans are habitual creatures. So if you maintain depressive behaviors, such as staying in bed all day or not cleaning, then habits form and you’ll likely not want to get out of bed or clean. If you activate positive behaviors, such as going on a walk or unloading the dishwasher, then it is likely that you will become more motivated to do other tasks. In the least, it will increase your sense of accomplishment.
Now I know that it won’t just become suddenly easy to make these changes, so let’s look at how you can begin this process to help prevent depression from occurring or from letting it get worse:
- Self-Care. Are you taking care of yourself in the basic ways? Have you showered recently, brushed your teeth or hair, changed your clothes? Are you eating enough, hydrating, moving your body? Are some of these things easier to do than others? It’s okay to listen to yourself and know what you are able to do and what would be too hard. The point of making these changes isn’t to create work but instead to find small challenges to start and build from there.
- Enjoyable Activities. Like I mentioned above, there are certainly some positive things about the changing of seasons, let’s not have depression take those experiences away! It can be helpful to create a list of both indoor and outdoor activities that are enjoyable to you and look ahead to when you would be able to do them. There will be days you don’t want to do anything, and sometimes that is okay because we all need rest. Sometimes, though, it will be important to push through that feeling in order to have positivity. Ideally, practicing mindfulness in these moments would be important in order to feel the enjoyment instead of letting depressed thoughts or worries take over.
- Sleep. It is so easy to oversleep or under sleep during this time of year. Again, with weather changing and it getting dark outside much earlier, you might decide it’s okay to just be in bed more. However, it is important to try and maintain your regular sleep patterns! Staying in bed for longer period of times can create lower energy/motivation. I tell my clients often, a body at rest wants to stay at rest. Oddly enough, if your body stays at rest too long, it can actually create the opposite effect where it’s difficult to fall asleep. So it’s important to maintain healthy sleep hygiene. Create a bedtime routine at a reasonable time and allow yourself in bed when it makes sense to be there.
These are just three areas that will help with Behavioral Activation and to help manage any depression that may pop up, but really any positive change in behavior can be useful. Remember that this process will not be perfect and some days are going to be harder than others. Show compassion to yourself in moments where it does feel too hard. The whole point is to do what you can, no matter how small the step is, to better yourself.
Be kind to yourself, ask for help when you need it, and you will get through this!
Natalie Smoot, LPC-MHSP
*If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or urges because of your depression, or any other reason, do not hesitate to seek help. Go to your nearest emergency room, call 911, or contact 988 for suicide prevention.