By Dr. Lisa Templeton, Ph.D.
Many of us struggle with the change in seasons and having less daylight in the day. Whether you have a diagnosis of Seasonal Affective Disorder or just notice a shift in your mood around October or November, having awareness and taking preemptive steps can offer much respite as winter comes upon us. Using lights, exercise, therapy, vitamins, and also having more social interactions is key, yet how we think about the winter months plays a major part in how we may experience it.
For those who have a history of depressive symptoms in the winter, there can be a feeling of dread and a large amount of negative thoughts as this season gets closer. As a result, anticipatory thoughts can arise such as, “Winter is coming and I know I will feel low energy” or “Oh no, its winter, I’ll be so depressed.” It’s easy for these thoughts to be there, especially if that’s been your experience. As a cognitive behavioral psychologist, I believe that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all interconnected. Therefore, our thoughts will affect how we feel. These anticipatory thoughts can lead to anxiety, frustration, and sadness.
Try to consider more realistic thoughts such as, “I am working on this and staying more present and aware this season to help me manage this” or “When I take precautions and work compassionately with myself around this, I can get through it much more effectively.” This is easier said than done, I know, but it can be helpful and these thoughts are true if you are working on yourself and trying.
It’s easy to get frustrated with ourselves for not having the same energy level in the fall/winter as in the summer months. As daylight decreases, many of us begin to hibernate more and don’t get out as much. Push yourself lightly with love and compassion for what works. Slow down and listen to what you are thinking. Notice your thoughts, but don’t attach to them. Challenge thoughts and don’t believe everything you think. Take control of what you can in the situation and start taking precautions now. Create positive, loving self-dialogue to encourage yourself and stay optimistic about how your winter will go. Watch any future or past thinking related to your past experiences and expectations. Stay in the moment and trust that your compassion, self-care, and preparation will make a difference.