It is autumn, and it is beautiful out. The weather is crisp, the leaves are amber, and the sunsets are golden. As scenic as this is, some of us may be feeling some anxiety about the changing weather and the darker days ahead. There is no shame in having your emotions be tethered to the weather; in fact, it is a truly common experience, and you are not alone.
Here are some tips for managing your mood with the changing weather. Please note these tips are not a cure or a “fix,” but they may help you find a bit more peace this winter season.
Accept the change. I know, the last thing you want to hear is that you have to “accept” the change in weather, but the truth is that acceptance is one of the keys to better mental health. Acceptance does not mean you have to like that the winter weather is happening; rather, it means that you stop fighting what you cannot change.
Here’s an example. Avoiding the changing weather looks like this: One evening I notice darker clouds rolling in, so I close the blinds and avoid looking up a weather report. I go to bed, and the next morning when I wake up I can hear heavy rain outside. I groan, pull up the covers, and mutter to myself about how much I hate the rain. I focus my attention on how miserable the weather is, and think thoughts about how the rainy weather will ruin my day. I am actively fighting the weather, and my mood is dismal.
If I chose to accept the changing weather instead, it would look like this: One evening I notice darker clouds rolling in. I check the weather forecast and see that there is a high probability of heavy rain the next day. Before going to bed, I prepare my clothes for the next day, making sure I choose warm layers, waterproof boots, and a raincoat. In the morning when I wake up, I hear the heavy rain. I sigh and experience sadness about the weather. I put my hand on my heart and comfort myself. It is okay to feel sad that it is rainy. I get out of bed, and put on the clothes I have laid out. I leave my house a couple of minutes earlier than usual because I know that I will be driving more slowly in the rain, and I also have decided to grab a coffee from the drive thru as a rainy day pick-me-up. I do not like the rain, but I have accepted that I cannot change it.
Track your mood. When we experience low moods, they can feel all encompassing. At our low points, it is easy to believe that we never have any high points. Thankfully, that isn’t usually the case. Mood tracking is a popular way that people disprove themselves. Mood tracking is simply keeping a record of your moods a couple of times per day. With modern technology it is super easy, and there are many apps that help you out. Or, if you’re like me and you prefer paper and pen, all you need is an inexpensive notepad and a reliable writing implement. As you track your mood, you may discover patterns in your dips. For instance, you might notice that waking up is really difficult and you feel dismal until after your first coffee, but the afternoons tend to be a happier time for you. You may also notice that when you are in a low mood, certain people or things will help lift you up again. Tracking this gives you data to work with so that you can create change for yourself.
Eat breakfast. People always say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and blah blah blah. But seriously, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. There is a reason we say this! Our emotional health is directly linked to our physical health. If you stub your toe, you generally are in a bit of a bad mood until the pain subsides. When your blood sugar is low, so is your mood. It makes it more difficult to think, more difficult to practice acceptance, and more difficult to have a positive outlook. Eating even just a piece of toast with peanut butter on it can give your brain the boost it needs to see the light in a dark day (unless you’re allergic to peanuts. Or gluten. Then I suggest trying something else, like a piece of fruit or some Greek yogurt). For the record, while a cup of coffee or tea is a lovely complement to breakfast, it is not breakfast.
Collect positive experiences. Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) is full of so many great tools, and one of my favourite is collecting positive experiences. What does this mean? It means that throughout the day, you intentionally notice the little things that put even just a small smile on your face. On top of that, you intentionally engage in small things that you consider a positive experience. These small things should not be a lot of effort. They are meant to be simple things that help create change in your mood.
A good challenge is to make a list of things you enjoy. Here’s a couple common ones to get you started: enjoying a cup of my favourite tea/coffee; wearing a cozy pair of socks; looking at photos of cute baby animals; listening to my “good mood” playlist (tip: create a “good mood” playlist); taking a bubble bath; noticing the beauty in some landscape; noticing people’s laughter; doing something kind for someone; writing in your journal; making time for a hobby like playing videogames or crafting. The possibilities are practically endless, but they can be difficult to think of when you are in a low mood, so I recommend making this list when you’re in a more positive mental/emotional space.
Plan ahead. Planning ahead is our present self being kind to our future self. When you find yourself in a positive mental/emotional space, ask yourself what you can do to make life easier when you’re in a low mental/emotional space. For instance, if you find that you’re in a better mood in the evening time than you are in the morning, it might be helpful to prepare breakfast in advance so that the next morning you just have to grab it from the fridge rather than spend any time preparing it. Planning ahead can help shorten your emotional dip and bring back your energy more quickly.
Practice Self-Compassion. Self-compassion is the act of treating yourself the way you would treat a friend, and remembering that as a member of the human race, you are beautifully imperfect. When we feel low moods, it can be easy to chastise ourselves for not being happy and positive all the time. Unfortunately, this bombardment of self-criticism makes our low mood even worse. Self-compassion is a skill that has been proven to lessen depressive and anxious symptoms. Next time you hear yourself being self-critical, take a breath and change the script. Don’t beat yourself up for being self-critical (even though it is tempting to do so!); rather, give yourself the validation and compassion you deserve. “I know it is hard to do things when my mood is so low. I am doing my best in a difficult situation.” These kind words may not immediately end your low mood, but they will likely make it a lot easier to get through the storm.
There you have it – Six Tips for Managing Your Mood with the Changing Weather. Okay, truth be told, these tips apply for managing your mood in general, whether your mood is being influenced by the weather or by something else.
If you’re struggling with moods and you’re in need of help, please take the step of finding someone to talk to. These steps can help manage tough moods, but they do not replace professional services. Counsellors are trained to be a professional listening ear, as well as to help you weather the stormy seasons of life. Find a counsellor who suits your needs and who can help you live your best life. You are important, and your mental health is important.