Fearing Fall and Winter: Is it all in your head?

Sue Bergeson Health Guide
  • I am always of two minds when it comes to the approach of winter. On the one hand, I love the cooler air and the wild colors of fall. On the other, I fear the shortening sunlight and, in my part of the world, an increase in rain and gloom.

    I have read the research on seasonal affective disorder (SAD) with interest (a nice article can be found here), but I never really made the connection that it was an issue for me. After all, my mood disorder is a life-long, year-round issue that I live with, not something that pops up only during the winter months. However, I have learned from charting my moods that decreased sunlight can be a trigger for me.
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    Two side comments before I continue:

    • If you are unfamiliar with mood tracking, you may want to take a look at DBSA’s mood tracker . This tool provides a helpful way to start clarifying mood patterns that otherwise may slip by you as you cope with your illness. I find it helpful as a way to identify triggers, side effects of my treatment, and to allow for a more meaningful conversation with my health care professional (I got tired, for example of being asked how I was doing and responding based on how I felt driving over instead of how the past three months have been). DBSA will soon be premiering a new free and password-protected online version that will be even more helpful.

    • If you are unfamiliar with the concept of triggers, you may want to read about them here. I’ve found it alternately difficult and life-saving to figure out some of my triggers (including lack of sleep, excessive travel, specific dates in my life), and to prepare in advance for their impact.

    Since I know that fall can be difficult for me, I prepare in a few very specific ways:

      1) I usually plan more activities. It may sound strange, but I find that when I embrace the season instead of hiding from it or dreading it, I tend to cope better. In my part of the world that means I take longer walks that get me in contact with the beauty of the season. This makes my dog Cassie even happier as the weather is better for her than the hot summer days. I also visit an apple orchard or two. Long car rides to view the best leaves also get me out of my isolation. Making soup and sharing it with a loved one gets me to think about and visit others.

      2) I do a little more meditation. My meditation tends to center around the cycles of change. In some ways the fall is a symbol of the times I descend into the depths. But the great thing about fall is that it is part of a natural cycle that will change again come spring. I find this oddly reassuring. I may sink into those deep depressions but, if I allow time to do what it does, I will come out again.

      3) I also have to prepare for having a harder time getting up in the morning. In summer the sunlight will wake me around the same time as my alarm. In the fall and winter there will be no sunlight for a while, so I know that I will resist getting up. I tend to set my alarm for an earlier hour to allow me more time to struggle to wakefulness.

  • I’d be interested in hearing about your seasonal mood experiences and preparations at wisdom@dbsalliance.org. As always, be well.
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    The DBSA President’s Blog is a biweekly essay written by Sue Bergeson, president of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, the nation’s leading patient-directed organization focusing on the most prevalent mental illnesses. The organization,which has more than 1,000 support groups nationwide, fosters an understanding about the impact and management of these life-threatening illnesses by providing up-to-date, scientifically-based tools and information. Assisted by a 65-member scientific advisory board, comprised of the leading researchers and clinicians in the field of mood disorders, DBSA supports research to promote more timely diagnosis, develop more effective and tolerable treatments and discover a cure. More than 4 million receive information and assistance each year. For more information, please visit www.DBSAlliance.org or call 800/826-3632.
Published On: December 19, 2006