Updated: Nov 5, 2021
Dana L. Collins, PhD
You might feel your mood changing along with the seasons. Learn why, and what you can do.
We’ve made it to November, and there’s a lot to look forward to: depending on where you live, maybe it's the fall leaves and more sweater weather, Thanksgiving (this can be tricky for some folx, let’s talk more about this soon), cuddling to stay warm, and the season of the Saggitarius and Scorpio. But like most things in life, we have to take the good with the not-so-good. In the U.S., with the exception of Arizona and Hawaii, daylight saving’s time ends November 7th this year, which means it’ll be time to fall back---turn back the clocks*. Yaaaay we get an extra hour of time, but yooo... it’s dark at like 5pm! (at least for those of us here in the Northern Hemisphere). This isn’t the only reason the days feel shorter: because of the Earth’s changing position relative to the sun, they actually are shorter. Shorter days equal less sun. It’s around this time that a lot of people (myself included) start to feel down, sad, tired, depressed, blue, over it, etc..
Here’s something you proooobably already know...sunlight makes us happy. Exposure to sunlight helps our bodies to make neurotransmitters, chemicals that help regulate mood. You may have heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a type of depression that usually starts in the fall and winter months due to decreased sunlight. People with SAD may experience fatigue, depression, isolation, changes in appetite, and loss of interest in the things they used to enjoy. For a formal diagnosis, you’ll have to talk with your mental health or medical provider, but the lack of sun can be hard even if you don’t develop SAD.
So, what can we do to combat SAD or sadness?
Light Therapy-This one might be intuitive. Some people benefit from light boxes, or phototherapy (myself included). Light boxes are small, portable lights that mimic sunlight. The specifics depend on the type, but they’re typically used in the morning for 20-30 minutes. No prescription needed, but you should talk to your healthcare professional before using one, especially if you’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder or certain eye conditions.
Vitamin D- This is especially important for us Black and Brown folx. Our bodies absorb vitamin D when we’re exposed to sunlight, and unfortunately, melanated skin tends to make less vitamin D to begin with. There’s research linking low vitamin D levels to depression. So, lack of sunlight may impact us in unique ways. Make sure you’re getting your daily recommended intake by eating Vitamin-D rich food. Start by talking to your doctor about how much is right for you.
Vacay!- If you’re feeling fancy and splurgy, take a trip to have some fun in the sun! Traveling is not only a nice change of pace, it's a chance to spend more time in the sun and warmth. Wherever you go, please follow local COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
Movement- Getting your body moving feels good because it helps to release neurotransmitters. So, commit to regular movement in whatever way is accessible and enjoyable for your body. If you can do it outside to get more light, so much the better. There’s more to winter activities than skiing, try a winter hike, snow shoeing, or snow tubing. It’s important to make sure you’re bundling up enough to stay warm, both because it feels nice, and also because you’ll want to avoid hypothermia. If outdoor activities aren’t an option, that’s ok too! Do yoga, twerk in the mirror, go for an indoor swim, take a walk--anything to get physical activity so you can benefit from the neurotransmitters you miss out on because of decreased sunlight.
Don’t let SAD (or sadness) get in the way of embracing all the wonders of fall. Making small lifestyle adjustments can make a big difference, but if you need a little extra support, reach out to your mental health or medical provider. They may suggest talk therapy, psychopharmacology, or other options. Falling back doesn’t have to get you down (sorry, I couldn’t resist).
*Daylight savings time ends in the fall, when we turn our clocks back an hour, and starts in the spring, when we move them forward an hour.
Dana L. Collins, PhD (she/her/ hers)
I’m a licensed psychologist, mindfulness practitioner, activist, and educator based in Brooklyn and originally from Oakland. As a Black woman, I’ve made it my mission to destigmatize and demystify mental health for BIPOC individuals and communities, and to make wellness practices accessible to us. I spread awareness and promote mental health through writing, teaching, doing therapy, facilitating mindfulness and wellness workshops, community outreach, and advocacy. I find balance by trying new foods, hiking and camping, meditating, reading, and playing video games and spending time with my partner Eddie.