By Kimberly Ngoh
Fall is arguably my favorite season of the year, with the right balance of hot and cold presented to you against the aesthetic backdrop of falling leaves. In fact, I have recently added pumpkin spice lattes (I know, I’ve been missing out) to the list of reasons why I endorse this season. However, complementing this seasonal change is a common recurring slump, one I was unaware of until recently.
It’s as if at the same time each year, lonely isn’t just “lonely” anymore – it is being hopelessly, painfully, indulgently alone, with a dash of homesickness on top. An existential crisis. A desperation for change, be it a radical haircut or completely new wardrobe. A sudden epiphany that hibernation may be the answer to all life’s problems. All of these characterize the mood disorder known as SAD, or seasonal affective disorder.
According to the Mayo Clinic, SAD is a type of depression related to the change in seasons, with symptoms including a lack of energy and moodiness. It might sound trivial, like something easily brushed off as a seasonal funk with midterm season starting up around this time. However, steadying your mood throughout the year is an important point many often overlook. Last fall, I was recursively plagued with a deep malaise; I could not explain my sudden dip in motivation or my steep increase in distaste for nearly everything, nor could I justify peeling myself out of bed in the morning. This fall, I am learning how to fight this seasonal, sluggish, agitated monster of a disorder.
With the weather cooling down, an inclination to stay indoors is normal, but we spend enough time in classrooms and libraries to make up for that shift in temperature. Low levels of Vitamin D contribute to a drop in serotonin levels, reducing the chemical that affects the happy aspects of your mood. The solution to this? Get outside, be it rain or shine, for a dose of fresh air and (even if it’s just a little bit of) light.
I’ve always been the kind to use rainy days as an excuse to hole up in my room and fall asleep to slow music, but this autumn, I’m trading that for sitting behind big windows and observing my surroundings in natural light, finding things to be thankful for, and even just picking up ideas on what to write about next. This way, I get to be cozy in the cooler temperatures without inducing the opportunity for my brain to catch a wave of SAD moodiness.
The shorter days also lead to a disruption of your circadian rhythm, which is your body’s internal clock. The National Institute of General Medical Sciences links circadian rhythms to sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, eating habits and digestion, and body temperature, among other important bodily functions. That being said, a modification of this is a surefire way to mess with your feelings. One solution would be to drop the resistance toward the natural rhythm fall or winter brings. Staying energized once the sun goes down in the fall or winter isn’t easy, so if you’re tired, accept that you’re tired and get some rest.
In addition to the above-mentioned, here are some other habits that can be cultivated for general year-round wellbeing. First, ditch toxic environments and surround yourself with work that is fulfilling, relationships that are intentional, and overall positive vibes. Yes, this is absolutely easier said than done. We can’t just leave our existing responsibilities behind, whether it be a desk job or hours spent doing homework at the library, but we can find ways to improve these situations. Taking breaks outdoors or doing things you enjoy can help with breaking away from the somber skies and reduced sunlight. We can choose to have picnic lunches or sit outdoors to enjoy a hot meal with a view. We can find things to celebrate, such as having bonfires and grabbing a PSL in the company of friends – quintessential fall or winter things that make the season special. Altering the conditions you feel you cannot thrive in is worth it.
I believe it is normal, instinctive even, for our bodies to react this way during the colder seasons, albeit it being easier for some to cope with. I plan to harness the habits and mindset mentioned above, as I feel they are most fitting for the seasonal slump I have experienced. However, if you find yourself in a more extensive, long-standing version of depression, it by no means equates to an overreaction that should be discounted. Mental and emotional health are important, and are most definitely manageable with the appropriate help.
Featured image is from PicLuck.