Tanya Ruckstuhl LICSW
The trees outside my office are turning to flame and every day I’m scooping tracked-in maple leaves off the kitchen and living room floors (dog doors are a wonderful opportunity for clean freaks to practice surrender). It’s autumn, a time for homemade soup and hot baths and hanging twinkle lights against the darkness. After nineteen years in Seattle, I’m finally getting the hang of coping with the long, wet winters here. Here are my top seven tips for maintaining mental health over the fall and winter:
First of all, you gotta do something seasonal. Tacky Halloween décor is awesome. Ditto going to haunted houses or whatever autumnal offerings float your boat. Not into the whole Halloween thing? Throw a party or go see some live theatre.
Second, nourish yourself with food that is warm, creamy, salty and substantial. Our lizard brain needs reassurance that we will survive the coming winter and nothing says “I am safe from starvation” to the lizard brain like salted fat.
Third get swept up in a story. When the days are dark and cold it is delightful to travel in our imagination. This is a great time to read novels, watch a show or a movie.
Forth, have at least one warm and beautiful jacket and a seriously comfy pair of house slippers. Spend some money so that you have a delicious tactile experience every day.
Fifth, remember that creativity ignites your inner sunlight. Take a workshop or a class to learn how to make something, or pull out creative supplies you already have and spend a weekend afternoon playing with them.
Six: Do something for someone else. Look around you. There are needs everywhere and if you have a time or talent, share. Look for a non-profit addressing a problem you care about and volunteer. This is the fastest acting, side-effect-free antidepressant not on the market. Sorry Pfizer!
Seven: Exercise. It makes endorphins and keeps us healthy. We Americans are a fat lot because we love to eat and hate to move. This is especially problematic when the outside world is about as inviting as a bed of nails. If you don’t already have an exercise routine, make a sustainable, incremental plan to increase your movement. If you already do, switch things up by trying out a new class or dance or type of movement.
Lifestyle adjustments are not always enough. If you are doing all you can to take care of yourself and still suffering from depression and/or anxiety, get professional help. But here’s the other thing you should know: professional help will not be enough without positive lifestyle choices. For instance, psychotropic medications (antidepressants for example) work as standalone treatments only 20% of the time.
I wish you all a happy fall!