Dealing with Seasonal Changes

in Features

Certain seasons seem to bring more natural joy than other times of the year. Spring and Summer top many people’s lists as they are “filled with the joys of Spring” or basking in the warmth of the Summer sun. 

One of the reasons we often find happiness in particular seasons is that we expect it to be there, so we look for it – and we find it there. In contrast, if we expect a season to be miserable and dank, that’s likely to be how we experience it. Consider the thoughts, feelings and emotions you associate with each season. If you are a Summer person, you might think about having fun in the sun, enjoying the long days and warm weather. 

As Summer blends into Autumn and the nights draw in, it might be that your thoughts darken too, and your joy starts to nosedive. The best way to combat this predisposition to misery is to reset your expectations. Actively choose to find joy during each season. Identify one or two things you can celebrate in each season. It might be appreciating the colourful Autumn leaves, the glisten of frost on the grass or something completely different. Anticipate and seek out positive seasonal experiences. They bring moments of joy that transform your mood.

There are three key points that will help you navigate and manage any seasonal changes.

Exercise

Moving your body on a regular basis has far-reaching, positive effects on your physical and emotional health. You don’t need to train for a marathon. Walking around your neighborhood, doing push-ups, running around outside with children—these all have the same benefit.

Get more light

Everyone needs to be exposed to sunlight on a daily basis. Since many jobs can be done indoors, this often takes effort. But the benefits are great, physically and emotionally. Our bodies absorb vitamin D, important to our health, from sunlight. The energy and emotional boost that we get from a few minutes in the sun can be exceptional.

Talk it out

All transitions have their challenges, and it’s always easier when you’re talking to someone about it. Whether you are talking to a friend, colleague or therapist, let someone into your inner thoughts and experiences.

Person-Centred Psychotherapist, Helen Burke-Smith BA, PGDip, MSc. believes ‘the effects of seasonal changes on our mental health can be profound. As summer ends and the shift into autumn and then winter occurs, big changes in temperature, light exposure, lengths of daylight and intensity of light can impact our mental health. With the weather closing in and the temperature dropping, in conjunction with waking up to lower light in the mornings, we can find ourselves feeling more lethargic, depleted and less motivated to move or exercise. But is this always the case? Seasonal Affective Disorder is well documented, but the benefits of seasonal change are less well known or discussed. So let’s explore the positive impact of seasonal change on our emotional, mental and physical wellbeing.

Autumn stimulates the brain to start taking on new challenges because the bright visual contrasts we see in nature, bright reds, oranges, yellows, and evergreen leaves trigger the brain to respond to change. As our brains acknowledge the change of season, it stimulates a push for change within. We can use this push to implement new healthy coping strategies, such as journaling, walking, exercising more, or making healthier food choices, all of which can help us in the colder and darker months. As the temperatures cool, we can find it easier to exercise outside, we can take advantage of the cooler mornings by trying a run in the park through the newly fallen leaves or getting out on a scenic bike ride. Try counting how many different colours you see as you are outside in nature, paying attention to things around us and naming what you see can help ground us and reduce anxiety. Autumn can stimulate newfound gratitude for the world around us. 

Furthermore, the bright colours of autumn have also been shown to alleviate stress and anxiety. Nature’s wide array of colours stimulates the brain and triggers positive emotions. Furthermore, research shows that Autumn stimulates nostalgia by reconnecting us to memories of our childhood. Think autumn leaves falling, kicking, or diving into the leaves, foraging for conkers or biking through the trees. If you stop to reflect on happy memories, it can work to train your mind to associate autumn with a joyful time of year. 

A surprising fact about our mind is that, according to research, several brain regions (subcortical structures associated with learning, motivation, decision making and emotional processing) become larger during autumn, suggesting our memory may become sharper during autumnal months. 

But not all benefits and positive impacts of seasonal change are linked to autumn, winter too can have a profound and beneficial impact on our mental health. Winter triggers us to want to slow down. Although humans cannot hibernate, we are drawn to do something similar. We are drawn to stay more local and inside and out of the cold. We are more tempted to cancel plans, skip workouts and eat more comforting food. Is this inherently bad for us? No. We can take the winter months to reoperate, enjoy the pleasure of more solitude, contemplate more, and spend time with loved ones cosy under blankets or in front of the fire. Winter is a time for rest and digest, and restoring depleted energy levels. Furthermore, winter too comes with a trigger for nostalgia, watching old movies from our childhood, playing board games, and getting the time to read our favourite novels. 

Research suggests that, unlike summer, we are less likely to experience guilt for not getting out and about, there is more patience in winter and more time.’

Helen Burke-Smith

www.thepathwayclinic.co.uk

helen@thepathwayclinic.co.uk

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