For many people, their mood and energy drop with the turning and falling of the Autumn leaves, and as I write this, wind and rain are lashing my window here in beautiful Victoria, B.C. If you are someone who has experience with this pattern, it can be difficult to remain hopeful as the days shorten and nature takes its well-earned rest. This post is meant to provide some tools and tips that can help improve and protect your mood, but not at the expense of seeing a doctor if your mood decline is pronounced, or if you have been diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Here are the tips in no particular order. Some of these will be easier to implement than others, but all have been shown to provide real benefit if done consistently.
Reduce screen time. The research on the negative effects of too much screen time on sleep, mood and relationships is overwhelming and consistent. The blue light emitted by most computers, phones, and televisions disrupt melatonin production and over stimulate the brain, leading to poor sleep and increased worry and anxiety at night. Ideally, there would be at least two hours without screen time before bedtime to allow for the brain to wind down.
Practice good sleep hygiene. The basics of sleep hygiene involve creating a structured routine that is going to support sleep, rather than an unstructured routine that challenges sleep. The building blocks of it are having set sleep and wake times (ideally before midnight), avoiding daytime naps/sleeping, reducing caffeine intake during the day or not consuming caffeine after 3 pm. Limiting alcohol and drug use are also critical, because although they may assist with falling asleep, research shows that alcohol and many drugs impact the quality of sleep and may leave you feeling tired when you wake up.
Exercise/ get outside/ gather experiences in nature. Decades of research have shown that exercise is a key component of good mental and physical health, and the benefits of being in nature are equally compelling. The exercise doesn’t need to be super strenuous, nor super long; with some research showing that as little as 10 minutes is good for a person’s mood. I think that the Swedish saying, ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes’ completely applies here, so bundle up and get outside.
Protect/nurture your relationships. Feeling isolated is a big part of low mood for many people and there are parts of the brain that only become activated when we are in face to face connection with another person. Although we all lead busy, hectic lives, recognizing that we are at our best when we get the right amount and type of social contact can give us the permission we need to schedule regular social interactions into our week, and individually and collectively we all benefit from it.
Gratitude list. Research in positive psychology shows that keeping a daily gratitude list can both improve and preserve mood, and foster a more positive outlook for the future. The most common practice is, at the end of each day write down the three things that we are grateful for. I recommend making each item on the list as specific and personal as possible, because it’s those small details that are meaningful and create the emotional and cognitive shifts that make the list work. I also recommend being as creative as possible when doing the list- drawing pictures and scribbling in the margins engages the right hemisphere of the brain, stops it from looking like a grocery list, and brings a little imperfection into our all too perfection focused world.
Now I’m going to take advantage of the break in the storm to go for a bike ride and meet a friend for coffee, which should meet nearly all of the requirements listed above- except for the caffeine intake, but it is still early in the day 🙂