While fall brings pumpkin patches, apple picking, gorgeous foliage, and cooler weather… it also brings shorter days. The mornings are darker, and the sun starts to set earlier and earlier. While I personally am a big fan of the spooky season and am grateful the humidity and bugs are disappearing, I can also acknowledge that I miss those long summer days.
If you are a part of the population who has seasonal pattern depression, or you just notice some low mood with the seasons changing, here are some science and behavioral-based tools that can help you navigate these chillier months.
Get 10-30 minutes of direct sunlight in the morning and again in the evening.
As the days get shorter it is even more vital to maintain good sleep hygiene. This begins with regulating our body’s internal clock, also known as the circadian rhythm.
- Fun fact: The suprachiasmatic nucleus is the body part that is responsible for that clock. It is located in our skull, right above the roof of our mouth.
To help reset this clock, aim for at least 10 minutes of direct low-solar-angle sunlight on your skin and in your eyes (not directly staring at the sun). Direct sunlight works best without the barriers of windows or shade. This type of sunlight occurs as the sun is rising and again as it is falling. Specifically, this lighting provides a contrast between yellow and blue that helps regulate several systems in our biology. Missing two or more days of this sunlight will misalign our cells and their clocks.
Bonus points if you can combine your sunlight exposure with a walk.
Both nature and physical activity have inarguable positive impacts on the human condition. There have been countless studies to show this. These habits can reduce our tendency to ruminate, general negativity, and anxiety. When you incorporate body movement with time in nature, you are taking advantage of two natural remedies for stress.
Some of the science behind walking: Your eyes engage in instinctual and imperceptible movements side-to-side when you walk so your vision isn’t blurry while you are in motion. These movements are called slip-compensating eye movements and they shut down the fear center in your brain, the amygdala. Therefore, stress and anxiety are lessened while walking.
To combine: 10-30 minutes of walking outside during low-solar-angle light. Try this for a week and note any changes in energy and mood.
Some things you may have heard before:
- Caffeine usage: Caffeine has a very long half-life in the body. It can take 8-12 hours to fully dissipate from our systems and process metabolically. Try to curb your caffeine intake by 2:00 pm or 3:00 pm in the afternoon and keep it under 300-400 mg per day.
- Our body has a natural alternative, cortisol, which releases once daily in our bodies. The earlier we can train our bodies to release this, the better. Late release cortisol is a marker of depression and anxiety. If you drink coffee right when you wake up, you are essentially neutralizing your body’s natural cortisol release and could be training it to release later.
- Artificial Light: If you are diligent about the above-mentioned practices, blue light before bed won’t have a huge impact on sleep. If you practice those sunset walks, this habit will naturally provide you some protection from artificial light exposure at night. If you can’t avoid spending time on your phone while in bed, try to switch your apps to “dark” or “night” mode to reduce the blue light waves.
- Napping: If you like to nap. Aim to keep naps at either 20-30 minutes or 90 minutes. The former will provide you with a power nap and a quick boost of energy while the latter will allow you to complete one full sleep cycle. These time periods are guidelines for the most refreshing nap effect.
*Pro-tip: Seasonal Affective Disorder was removed from the DSM as a stand-alone diagnosis and is now known as Major Depressive Disorder with a Seasonal Pattern qualifier. This just means it’s a pattern of major depressive episodes that occur and remit with changes in seasons.
And again, just because you have a dip in mood when summer is over doesn’t mean you have a disorder. These tips are helpful for clinical and non-clinical symptoms!
About Jasmine Payne:
Jasmine is a Resident in Counseling and provides services at the Fredericksburg location. She is a two-time graduate of Longwood University, receiving her B.S. in Psychology along with an M.S. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.
Throughout her graduate studies, Jasmine worked with teens and adults who belonged to various minority and multicultural populations. She also has familiarity with a wide spectrum of mental health concerns including anxiety/depression, grief, moodiness, self-improvement, motivation, relationship issues, and many more. To learn more about Jasmine, visit HERE.