Seasonal Mood Shifts: 3 Ways to Stay Grounded This Fall

For many the season of autumn is difficult. Depending on where you live, it’s full of things dying, leaves falling, colder weather, darker days, and a general sense of ending. In addition, to the messiness of leaves and seeds flying around, it gets blustery which can be hard on our nervous systems.

According to Esienberg et al. (2010), the changing of seasons and sunlight decreases shifts the dopamine systems. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that helps us feel pleasure. When the seasonal changes shift our ability to feel pleasure we have to make sure to find ways to bring pleasure into our lives.

The change in seasons can be tough on our physical systems and impact our mental health. Here are some ways to make sure you are staying on track as we move through fall and into the chilly, crisp winter season. 

  1. Get Your Schedule Figured Out: 

If you are like a lot of people you’ll probably feel a little off your routines as we transition from the lazy long days of summer in the northern hemisphere to the short, cooler, darker days of fall and winter. This is a time of returning to schedules and getting “recommitted” after the fun of summer. Make sure you spend some time each day planning. This skill gets missed by many but is very important if you want to reach your goals. You must spend time planning. Not planning is planning to fail at your goal. 

Not only do you need dedicated time each day to plan your day/end your day and prepare for tomorrow, you also need time each week to review the week and set the next week up for success. 

Prioritize this simple step and watch your world shift from frazzled and chaotic to structured and manageable. The trick here is to make sure you are setting aside some dedicated time. Get out your calendar of choice (I love my Commit30 planner and journal) and write in 10 minutes at the start and end of each day for daily review and 30 minutes to an hour for weekly review. This is must have time, so make sure you are picking times you can commit to. 

During this time your job is to review your schedule, make shifts, and take things off that do not need to be done after all. It is also a time for you to rate your day. I like using a 1-10 scale. At the end of each day, I pick a number between 1 – it sucked and 10 – it was amazing. At the end of each week I average the daily numbers to get a weekly rating. This allows me to see if I am living my priorities and feeling effective. Just like my children’s report card, I’m looking for a B or better (8/10 or 80%). Anything lower than that means I need to make some adjustments. Maybe I just had an off day or maybe the review shows I am focused on things that do not bring me enough joy to sustain my day. This simple scale allows me to quickly adjust my life to make sure my focus is aligned with what I want to be doing. 

Note: The daily rating is a gut check. Do not overthink it or you’ll justify what is not working. It is a quick check-in and the first number that pops up is it. Sometimes I make a note regarding the number – why is it high or low to help me in my weekly review. 

2) Watch Your Consumption Habits and Mind Your Reactions: 

I feel like I talk about this sort of thing all the time … what you put into your system is what you will get out. I work with so many people in my office who are feeling low energy or angry and do not see the connection to the things they are eating, how they are sleeping, or what they are watching on TV. So many are disconnected from the direct effects our consumption has on us. 

It is a great skill of the body … the ability to adapt and conserve energy to be effective … or just survive. The body gets good at figuring out what you are consuming and then adapting. This fall pay attention to what you are eating, listening to, watching, and who you allow in your space. Notice how you feel after you engage with these things. Do they uplift you, inspire you, or deplete you? If it is depleted you feel, it is time for a detox. Take a break from the news, turn off the angry or discriminatory music, unhealthy/unsupportive food choices, and get away from the toxic person in the office as quickly as possible. 

Make sure you are getting enough healthy food. Typically this time of year we begin to crave heavier, richer foods to help us “warm” from the inside out. Notice if you begin to overeat or are turning to sugary foods for additional fuel. These are signs that you are distracted from your body and need to pay attention to the shift in personal needs.

As we begin to crave the heavier, rich foods it is important to pay attention to amounts. We can eat a whole big plate of lettuce in the summer’s need for cooler foods, but try a whole big plate of pasta and cheese and watch yourself grow – in the wrong directions. Follow the seasonal foods. Opt for organic and local when you can and make sure you are using enough fats, proteins, and carbohydrates for your individuality. Need healthy choices for the upcoming holidays? Read more here.

Then make sure you are present and mindful while you eat. Eating mindfully helps us return to listening to our bodies and avoid overconsumption. These tips will help you feel reconnected to basic nurturing for yourself. Taking care of ourselves is important in feeling grounded and self-regulated (able to handle stressful situations). 

Although we cannot always control what we are exposed to, we are always in control of how we respond to it. It is your responsibility to manage your reactions to your environment. As we begin to notice what is going on around us, we will begin to see that what is happening outside is also happening inside. What I am internally experiencing will be reflected in my outer world. This is a powerful realization. The more you work with how you respond to things the more you will be able to shift your mood back toward the positive quickly and the less you will even have to deal with negativity. It just will not be showing up in your world.

Does this mean you are living in Lala land? No, it means you are better at filtering out what you do not want to pay attention to. According to Rohan et al. (2011), in the winter and fall people who are sensitive to the changing seasons tended to ruminate, have more automatic thoughts, and more dysfunctional thoughts related to light and dark. Your attention goes where you put it, so be careful what you give it to.

3) Make sure you move:

As we move into colder months and darker days in the northern hemisphere, it is easy to stop moving and get sedentary. Instead of heading for the couch or pulling the covers back over your head, make a plan, dedicate time, and commit to yourself. Have your workout clothes ready to go and appropriate for the season so you can change quickly into gear that keeps you warm while your move (if needed). Just knowing it is ready to go can help you get out of bed or avoid the after-work couch that likes to call your name. 

I know this video is about spring … but she discusses some good ideas we can use for fall, too.

For many, physical movement needs change with the seasons. You might find that running outside is really not an option for you or that the shifts to your schedule as school starts back up become overwhelming as you fit in carpooling duties again.

Shift your workouts to match your body during the winter months. You may find your workouts are more about strength and power than endurance and speed as the season change and energy around you gets heavier with the shift in light and temperatures. Follow what feels good and make sure you are working within both your training zones and your nervous system needs.

As in number 1 above, set your schedule, prioritize dedicated time, and commit to yourself. Make these “appointments” in your calendar non-negotiable. You might say I need to have 5 workouts a week, however, if you do not schedule them, you will find yourself trying to fit them all in on days 6 and 7. Schedule them and even if you have to maneuver your day, keep them on the same day to get them done, feel successful, and stay on track. Want some ideas for winter workouts? Read more here. 

Make sure to treat yourself to grounding bodywork to round out your physical practices. Maybe you want a massage or restorative yoga class. A lovely practice you can do at home is called Abhyanga or self-massage of the body with warm sesame oil. I love this practice in the fall and spring. It is very grounding during the windy shifts in the seasonal changes. Not to mention, the luxury of rubbing the body with warm oil, soaking in the warm tub, and then enjoying the softness of my skin for days. This is such a delicious practice for so many reasons and very helpful to keep my energy calm and focused.

As we move through the cooler seasons work to ground yourself within your own experiences. Notice how you feel as you structure your schedule, notice how external items impact your internal experience, and how your body feels as you move and eat according to its changing needs this fall. 

References:

Eisenberg, D. P., Kohn, P. D, Baller, E. B., Bronstein, J. A., Masdeu, J. C., and Berman, K. F. (2010). Seasonal Effects on Human Striatal Presynaptic Dopamine Synthesis. Journal of Neuroscience, 30 (44). 14691-14694. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1953-10.2010

Rohan, K. J., Nillni, Y. I., Mohan, J. N., Roecklein, K. A., Sitnikov, L., Hagga, D. A. F. (2011). Cognitive vulnerability in moderate, mild, and low seasonality. [Abstract]. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, (199)12. p 961–970. doi: 10.1097/NMD.0b013e3182392948. Retrieved from: https://tcsedsystem.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.tcsedsystem.idm.oclc.org/docview/917738676?accountid=34120