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Maintaining Mental Health as the Days Get Shorter

It’s that time of year again- fall is upon us with its golden glow, the weather is cooling off, and the sun is setting earlier and earlier each day. It’s a beautiful season full of cozy sweaters and hot, spiced drinks; it’s also a season of stress, anxiety, and depression for many people. The lack of sunshine paired with the looming holidays, the prospect of a long winter, or even just the current year coming to a close can affect you more strongly than you think.

If you feel yourself starting to feel down, anxious, or overwhelmed, here are some ways to help keep your spirits up and reduce stress through the next few months.


Do things you enjoy.

Set aside time, even if you have to take an hour off work or reschedule a dental appointment, to do an activity that makes you happy or relaxes you. Hiking, biking, or just strolling through downtown are all good exercise that will instantly boost your mood. If that’s not your thing, try joining a ‘paint and sip’ group one evening and unwind with a glass of wine and creativity.

Depending on where you live, there are also plenty of autumn or Halloween-themed activities available, including pumpkin patches, haunted houses, or ghost tours that teach about interesting local history. There is no need to pack your schedule full of every event you can find. Just pick a couple of things you are interested in and grab a friend or two.

Plan ahead.

If you are not typically an organizer/planner type of person, this may be more difficult for you; however, keeping track of responsibilities or events in your life can help keep stress levels down. When you write things down on a calendar or planner and look at them at least every couple of days, it helps you to remember them better, with the goal of not dropping the ball on anything. Do kids have a basketball game? Write it down. Did your sister-in-law invite you to Thanksgiving dinner? Better keep track of that. When you know what is coming up and can prepare for it, anxiety is reduced and life goes more smoothly.

Say no.

All that being said, it is important not to overdo it. Keep your mental load light by saying no to things you dislike, don’t want to do, or feel overwhelmed by (unless it’s work or another responsibility; unfortunately those don’t take no for an answer). The holiday season in particular seems to drag people into gatherings, dinners, and parties that they would rather not attend but feel obligated to. Just remember that not everyone has a legitimate claim on your precious time; prioritize invites by importance to yourself, and politely decline the rest.


Go to your happy place.

Whenever you start to feel overwhelmed, upset, or panicked, it can be very helpful to take a moment alone to take deep breaths and shut everything out, even if you only have a few seconds. Pull up an image in your mind of somewhere that makes you feel relaxed, safe, or content. It can be made up or real, as long as it makes you feel good and calm. This is a place nobody else gets to come into but it is entirely up to you what other elements to include. What sounds are there? What colors or sensations? More detail is better but keep it simple enough to bring to mind if all you have is a minute in the bathroom. Doing this will help slow your heart rate and ground you, preventing a panic attack (if you are prone to it) or even just a frustrated outburst.


Practice healthy habits.

Creating healthy habits may be old news and something you don’t want to do. However, science is hard to disagree with and science shows that things like good sleep habits, healthy eating that includes plenty of green veggies, and regular exercise are all effective stress busters and help to keep your mood from sinking into depression. It might seem like too much effort to make a salad, take a walk, or get in the shower when you’re feeling blue but often times just making that effort helps you to feel just a little better, a little more in control of things.


Don’t be ashamed to get help.

Sometimes the blues aren’t just the blues, and it is of utmost importance to recognize when just feeling down or stressed out has passed into more serious territory. If you find you are unable to perform simple daily tasks such as showering, eating, or tidying up; if you begin sleeping more or far less than you usually do; if you don’t snap out of a sour, low, or irritable mood after a few days, it may be time to talk to someone. A therapist is a great option if you are feeling overwhelmed or overloaded to the point you feel you can’t carry the burden alone. A doctor may think medication can improve your symptoms. Whatever you do, don’t let shame or pride get in the way of getting whatever help you need.

Mental health is every bit as important as physical health and it is becoming more accepted and normal to discuss it openly. You should never feel guilty about taking care of yourself; it is not selfish or weak to make sure you are at your best, and you are a much better friend, employee, parent, boss, or whatever other roles you hold when you take care of your mental health.