Updated: Oct 23, 2018
Oh Fall, you devilish, delightful little minx. Lurring us in with promises of crisp, autumn days, yellow leaves, and pumpkin-flavored-everything. We love you. We love you so much that we are gleefully pulling out our over-sized sweaters and tall boots as if you aren't going to fade into the coldest, darkest time of year.
Look, I love fall as much as the next person, but seriously, I know what's coming - and it ain't gonna be pretty. Sadly, much of our mental health treatment is set up to respond to problems after they are in full swing, when the despair, panic, and feelings of crisis are intolerable.
I think it's time we woman or man up already and accept that in places where winter is cold and dark, Seasonal Affective Disorder is coming. So on this beautiful, sunny fall day, let's start anticipating our health and wellness needs so we can work towards long-term recovery and resilience. Here are 10 prevention-focused activities that you can start working on NOW, while the glow of autumn is still all around us...
1. Take your workout inside: It's crucial that we keep our bodies movin and groovin during the winter months. Exercise boosts our mood and helps us fight off illness. For those of you who have been working out outside, the thought of dragging your cold, tired self out of bed and driving to the gym in the dark at 6am may seem impossible. For indoor workouts you can do in the comfort of your home try Gaia.com (yoga and meditation videos), or check out this list of 50 free resources for working out at home.
2. Set goals and start projects that require you to be indoors: No one wants to stay indoors and learn to knit during the summer when they can be out kicking it under the sun. Activities that require you to stay indoors can make it feel slightly less painful to suffer through the winter months. Need ideas? How about knitting, art projects/crafting, reading all of the books on your book list, start a blog or podcast, finally write your novel, take a poetry class, learn to bake, start fan-girling, learn to play an instrument, develop your haiku skills, get really, really good a scrabble, etc.
3. Keep socializing: Our tendency during cold winter months is to hunker down and stay indoors, watching reruns for the zillionth time. This can be great, except if we find that we aren't staying socially active and connecting with friends and family. We need regular social interactions to help us beat the winter blues.
4. Practice Hygge: Trendy? Yes. Awesome? Also, yes. The Danish concept of Hygge cannot be translated into one single word, rather, it encompasses a feeling of cozy contentment and well-being through enjoying the simple things in life. Think candles, tea, warm blankets, good food, time with loved ones, etc. Learn more about Hygge here, then take a look around your home and find a spot that you can designate as your very own happy, Danish-wannabe corner.
5. Start journaling: A daily practice of journaling or morning pages is great for our mental health, even if you only have a few minutes a day to set aside for writing. Bonus points for keeping a gratitude journal which I resisted forever, but admittedly, it totally helps me and my clients feel better.
6. Practice extended touch: We now have loads of scientific research about how important physical touch is for our mental health and the strength of our relationships. And, we know that we need extended, close physical contact to get the benefits. Be generous and frequent with hugging, hand holding, back rubs, and other safe physical touch.
7. Make an appointment with a therapist BEFORE you feel terrible: Prevention is all about intention. Setting up an intentional, pre-winter appointment with your therapist to brainstorm ways to stay healthy and active can be very motivating. Don't have a therapist? Most therapists offer a free consultation call so you can get to know each other. Make a few phone consultation appointments to find a therapist that is the best fit for you, and schedule a planning session with them. If the winter blues kick in hard core, you wont' have to go to all the trouble of finding a great therapist and starting over with them.
8. Get your light out early: Don't wait for the depths of winter (and despair) before you get out your light therapy box. The days are already getting shorter, and we are spending more time indoors. Get up early for a few minutes of journaling or reading an uplifting book while you sit under your light. You can also implement a dawn simulator into your routine which may help regulate melatonin and cortisol levels, making your mental health easier to manage.
9. Schedule a getaway for the worst months: My worst months are always January and February. The festivevness of the holidays is over, I'm tired of being cold, and I just want to be outside in the sunshine already. Schedule a getaway pre-emptively to somewhere warm and sunny. Or, schedule a getaway somewhere nearby where you can sit by a fire and soak in a hot tub or hot springs. Or, save some money and schedule a stay-cation. Beef up the hygge, stack up your fav books/magazines, and plan some fun get togethers to keep your socializing up.
10. Get Clubbing': Start a book club, dinner club, shopping club, dessert club, crafting club, cat club, any kindof club that keeps you socially active, distracts you from the cold, and gives you something to look forward to.
Jane Thatcher Hahn is the founder of Grit Therapy. She lives in Denver and engages the community as a social worker, therapist, creative arts instructor, and wellness enthusiast.