September 9, 2017
By Simcha Samuel, PhD, Psychologist
Fall is often a time where we get a high volume of referrals at the Connecte Montreal Psychology Group – and that’s not entirely surprising – the warm weather is fading and the reality of back-to-school/work (whether for ourselves or our kids) is setting in. All of this can contribute to feelings of heightened sadness (as we ‘mourn’ the end of summer) or anxiety (as we picture the next few months like a mountain of upcoming work projects and dread the inevitable shift to colder weather). Some research even shows an association between vitamin D (which we get in part from the sun) and mood (Anglin, Samaan, Walter, & McDonald, 2013). It might seem like an objectively undesirable situation that we just can’t do much about. As it turns out, we have a lot more control than we may realize. In this blogpost, I’ll suggest some specific things that you can do to make this transition to fall more bearable, and hopefully even enjoyable.
#1. Take things one step at a time. It sounds cliché, but it’s true! Take the example of a student who, on her first day of school, looks at her syllabus and sees every chapter she will have to read, every assignment she will have to write, and every exam she will have to take for the remainder of the school year… of course she would feel overwhelmed and/or anxious! And she’s right, at some point she will have to undertake all of those challenging tasks. But viewing the school year that way is akin to looking at all of the food she will eat in a semester piled up on her kitchen floor – that would be enough to make even the biggest foodie lose her appetite. Instead, we want to take things one step at a time. For example, instead of thinking of everything you have to do in the upcoming semester, try instead to focus on what you have to do that week, that day, or even that morning. This change in perspective can make things more manageable. Indeed, much research has shown that the way we think about things can have a tremendous impact on our mood (Greenberger & Padesky, 2015).
#2. Shift your basis of comparison. If you love warm weather and find yourself feeling down after comparing the current 12-degree weather to the sunny 22-degree days that we enjoyed just a few short weeks ago, try to then compare the current weather to the much colder temperatures that we have endured (‘well at least it’s not anywhere near as cold as it was in February!’) or that people in other countries are currently exposed to. Maybe there are some things you could do without from the summer months – like the sticky humidity or those pesky mosquitos! Shifting our baseline can have a big impact on how we perceive our current situation.
#3. Consider whether there is anything you actually LIKE about the change in seasons.
#4. Instead of trying to deny or disconnect from the inevitable fact that the season is changing, practice heightening your awareness by being mindful about these changes; try to be fully conscious and aware of the present moment, without being judgmental of your experience (click here for a review of the positive effects that mindfulness can have on mental health). Consider the difference between walking out of your house and grumbling to yourself about how the weather is getting colder versus taking a minute to notice how the crisp fresh air feels on your cheeks, how the crunchy leaves feel when you step on them as you walk down the street, etc. For more information about mindfulness, check out my colleague Dr. Natsumi Sawada’s blogpost.
#5. Increase self-care. Self-care can mean different things to different people; examples include taking time to prepare a healthy meal for yourself, reading a book by your favorite author, going to bed early, going for a run, or carving out time to catch up with a good friend. You might even talk to that good friend about how you notice a dip in your mood around this time of year; he or she might feel similarly, and it might help you to feel that you two are in it together. Self-care can contribute to improved mood, and pre-emptively engaging in more self-care activities can be especially helpful if you have noticed that your mood has tended to dip around this time of year in the past. Check out my colleague Dr. Jodie Richardson’s 3-part blogpost for more information about self-care.
Importantly, these same tips (e.g. shifting your baseline, increasing self-care) can be applied to many other life situations that might have you feeling down. Although the end-of-summer period can be rough for many of us, my hope is that these tips help to make that transition a bit easier!
Anglin, R. E. S., Samaan, Z., Walter, S. D., McDonald, S. D. (2013). Vitamin D deficiency and depression in adults: Systematic review and meta-analysis. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 202,100–107.
Greenberger, D. & Padesky, C. A. (2015). Mind over mood, second edition: Change how you feel by changing the way you think. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
Keng, S.-L., Smoski, M. J., & Robins, C. J. (2011). Effects of mindfulness on psychological health: A review of empirical studies. Clin Psychol Rev, 31, 1041–1056.