Spooky season is here!! Okay, maybe I am a bit partial to Halloween. The pumpkin flavored everything, rich warm colors, and knitted textiles. Oh and let's not forget hot soup! Autumn has so many beautiful qualities. There is no better time then now, coming off of the positive summer moods, to begin developing great habits to keep you balanced during these chilly months. 8 to 9 out of 10 people stay positive and regulated during cozy season. So, what are their tricks? Well, preventing even mild seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD) during COVID-19 is actually simple. Keep it Fun, Creative, Consistent, and Planned. Here are five ways to put these four principles in action so that you can prevent SAD!
1. Schedule out time with loved ones!
First, I recommend scheduling out times with friends (if possible that do not live with you) to talk on the phone at least 2-3 times per week.
Second, If you are safe and feel comfortable you can also go on a social distanced and masked walks, hikes, or bike rides outside on a regular basis. This will provide accountability to both of you and increase safety. We live in the Pacific North West so prepare with your rain gear once the winter comes.
Third, I recommend scheduling out through March 2021. While plans will change, this creates an initial expectation to help with accountability even during the times where you may not feel up to it.
2. Implement a regular sleep schedule.
While nights of binge watching can be fun, shifting sleep and wake times by more than 1-2 hours can wreak havoc on mental health. Now that the days are getting shorter bedtime can often come easier to people.
Set a regular bedtime and wake up time for yourself, even if other family members do not follow suite, this is you putting your oxygen mask on first. While best if this is the same time each day, you can also set a weekend bedtime for 1-2 hours later, just make sure that you also wake up 1-2 hours later. There is no such thing as "catching up" or credit balances when it comes to sleep. What you get is what you get. So, make sure that you follow your schedule. If things are not working on a regular basis then it might be a good time to shift your sleep and wakeup hours around to account.
3. Get into the habit of exercising NOW!
Exercise is a vital component of preventing and treating SAD. It takes just 3 weeks to begin to build a habit and just 1-2 weeks to get boosts in mood. Regular moderate cardiovascular exercise is has been seen to decrease depressive symptoms by over 62%! Some studies even showed drops of 50% in depressive symptoms in just 10 days.
I recommend scheduling out your workouts, using apps like Pop Sugar, Tone It Up, or other Youtube based trainers that lay out the plan for you. That way you are not going into your workout without a plan.
Additionally, exercising in the morning or afternoon will give you boosts in mood and energy throughout the day. If you have trouble sleeping, then be weary of exercising in the evening as there is evidence that the adrenaline can make it more difficult to fall asleep.
4. Begin some DIY projects or start a new hobby.
2020 seems to be the year for hobbies and DIY and for a good reason. Studies show that engaging in pleasurable offline leisure activities can significantly boost mood! Additionally, practicing something and achieving mastery increases life satisfaction and feelings of purpose, connection, and importance. Here are a couple of free or low-cost ideas:
Learn an instrument, whether it be your mouth (beat boxing, singing, whistling), a kazoo, or a piano. There are thousands of free books, videos, and resources. You can even go on your local buy nothing facebook page to see what is available.
Re-arrange a room in your home. There is a popular room makeover challenge where you try to re-vamp a room in your home by using what you already have. If you are looking for inspiration, channels like JnayDaily, TheSorryGirls, and MarieKondo provide options at all price points and across many ability levels to help you shift your space.
Read or listen to books and podcasts. There are so many amazing stories out there, this is a great time branch out and try something new. Do you find yourself reading material that is news or socially focused? Try picking up a popular young adult novel or vise versa! Ask your friends and loved ones to put together a book or podcast list for you. Variety is the spice of life!
5. Lay off the booze and other drugs this year.
Substances like alcohol and cannabis literally have chemically depressing effects on the body. In addition to the depressant effects, when a person ingests these (and other drugs) large amounts of dopamine, a feel good reward chemical, in the brain is released. As the drug begins to wear off, that dopamine level drops. This creates increased levels of agitation and low mood shifts cueing the individual to use substances. While the high that comes from dopamine can feel positive initially, during and post-withdrawal will actually kick off depression or make it worse.
With the increased stressors of 2020, extra diligence with safe substance use will serve you well. Mocktails, elixirs, teas, coffees, and non-alcoholic wines and beers are great options to enjoy the ambiance of alcoholic beverages without the deleterious effects.
If you do use substances here are some guidelines regarding low-risk to moderate drinking:
Standard drinks are: Beer one 12 fl.oz can, Wine one 4 fl.oz glass, and 1.5 fl.oz shot
For assigned sex female bodies: Max 3 drinks/day no more than 7 drinks/ week.
For assigned sex male bodies: Max 4 drinks/day and no more than 14 drinks/week.
Guidelines for cannabis use:
Standard Cannabis Dose: 5mg of THC
If you want to research effects, most scientific research on cannabis has used THC with potency levels of 1-4%.
More info about cannabis and why this is:
Current scientific research does not indicate or support standardized use guidelines for cannabis at this time owing to high variability between recreational products and the absence of regulation and research on these products to form such standards. As a health care provider, I recommend speaking with your doctor about cannabis use.
Generally, keep in mind that most full effects from use typically come on within 40 minutes or less so be weary when taking in more than the recommended amount on the packaging. Edibles can take 30minutes-2 hours to take effect.
A general harm reduction principle is less is more. Try less first, wait 10+minutes, and see what happens.
Cannabis severely impairs functioning (so no driving) for minimum 3 hours after use. Impairment does not completely drop off until after 24 hours.
Use products with 5% or less THC (though average minimums in buds hover around 20% and the content of these products is unregulated).
Leafly, a popular site for cannabis users has some guidelines built out of anecdotal experience linked here. However, a disclaimer that these do not have research like that required by the National Institute of Health research as a backing.
End of cannabis info.
When using substances such as alcohol and cannabis make sure to have a full stomach, adequate hydration, and take multivitamins the next day. You cannot "reverse" effects of anything but you can reduce the level of harm.
COVID-19 is shifting everything this year and there are still many ways to prevent SAD. I hope that you find these ideas helpful. Remember, as long as you keep things Fun, Creative, Consistent, and Planned you are well on your way to experiencing balance and cheer this coming cozy season!