As the vibrant hues of Rocky Mountain autumn leaves usher in a season of transformation, so does the opportunity for personal renewal and growth emerge. However, amid the beauty and crisp air of fall lies a hidden challenge: the onset of mental health hurdles exacerbated by shorter days and looming year-end stress. Fear not! Autumn also bears the promise of renewal, a perfect canvas for reevaluating and enhancing mental wellness and fortifying our relationships.
The fall season can both positively and negatively impact mental health. On one hand, the cooler temperatures and beautiful scenery can be a mood booster. Many people enjoy fall activities such as pumpkin picking, leaf peeping, fall sports, and hayrides. These activities can provide opportunities for social interaction and physical activity, which are both beneficial for mental health.
On the other hand, the shorter days and reduced sunlight of the fall season can trigger SAD in some people. Additionally, the fall season can be a time of stress and anxiety for some people, as they prepare for the holidays and the end of the year.
Here are some practical tips for maintaining and improving mental health during the fall season:
- Enjoy the fall foliage. Spending time in nature has been shown to have a number of mental health benefits, including reducing stress and anxiety, improving mood, and boosting cognitive function. Take a walk in the park, go for a hike in the woods, or simply sit outside and enjoy the fall leaves.
- Get adequate sunlight. Sunlight helps to regulate our circadian rhythms, which are our sleep-wake cycles. Sunlight also helps to boost our production of vitamin D, which is important for mental health. If you live in a place with shorter days during the fall, try to get outside for at least 30 minutes each day.
- Stay active. Physical activity is another great way to improve mental health. Exercise releases endorphins, which have mood-boosting effects. Additionally, exercise can help to reduce stress and anxiety. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week.
- Seek professional help when necessary. If you are struggling with your mental health, don’t be afraid to seek professional help. A therapist can help you to understand your mental health challenges and develop coping mechanisms.
For those grappling with SAD, creating a support network of friends, family, and professionals can be invaluable. Connecting with others, sharing experiences, and seeking help are pivotal steps in navigating the emotional tides of fall.
The Power of Choices
The choices we make play an important role in our mental health and overall well-being. From our diet to our daily routines, the choices we make can have a significant impact on our mood, energy levels, and overall sense of well-being.
For example, eating a healthy diet can help to boost our energy levels and improve our mood. Additionally, getting enough sleep can help to reduce stress and anxiety. Additionally, engaging in regular physical activity is another great way to improve mental health.
Here are some examples of positive changes individuals have made to improve their mental health:
- One person started eating a healthier diet. They cut back on processed foods and sugary drinks, and started eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. This change in diet helped to improve their mood, energy levels, and overall sense of well-being.
- Another person started getting regular exercise. They started going for a walk or run every day. This helped to reduce their stress and anxiety levels, and also helped them to feel more energized.
- A third person started seeing a therapist. They were struggling with anxiety and depression. Therapy helped them to understand their mental health challenges and develop coping mechanisms.
Studies suggest that our mental health can have a significant impact on the mental health of our loved ones. When we are struggling with our mental health, it is important to seek help so that we can protect the well-being of those closest to us.
- A study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science found that the happiness of one spouse is strongly linked to the happiness of the other spouse. The study found that when one spouse experiences a positive event, such as a promotion at work, the other spouse is more likely to experience a positive event as well. This suggests that our happiness can have a ripple effect on our loved ones, making them happier as well.
- Another study, published in the journal Psychological Science, found that children who grow up with depressed parents are more likely to experience depression themselves. The study found that this is partly due to genetics, but it is also due to environmental factors, such as the way depressed parents interact with their children. Depressed parents are more likely to be irritable and withdrawn, which can create a stressful environment for children. This stress can make children more likely to develop depression themselves.
- A study published in the journal Pediatrics found that children who have caregivers who experience chronic stress are more likely to have behavioral problems. The study found that this is because chronic stress can impair caregivers’ ability to parent effectively. Stressed caregivers are more likely to be irritable and impatient, and they are less likely to be responsive to their children’s needs. This can lead to behavioral problems in children.
The Ripple Effect of Our Decisions
Our choices not only impact our own mental health, but they also have a ripple effect on those closest to us. When we make positive choices for ourselves, we are also setting a good example for our loved ones. Additionally, when we are feeling happy and healthy, we are better able to support our loved ones in their own lives.
- A parent who makes healthy choices for themselves is more likely to have children who make healthy choices as well. For example, a parent who eats a healthy diet and exercises regularly is more likely to have children who also eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly.
- A spouse who makes positive changes in their own life, such as starting therapy or cutting back on alcohol, can have a positive impact on their marriage and family. For example, a spouse who is struggling with depression or anxiety is more likely to be irritable and withdrawn. If this spouse starts therapy and learns to manage their mental health challenges, they are more likely to be present and engaged in their marriage and family.
- A friend who is struggling with addiction may have a negative impact on their relationships. For example, a friend who is struggling with alcohol addiction may be more likely to cancel plans or make hurtful comments when they are drunk. This can lead to conflict and damage the friendship.
Our emotions and choices, akin to ripples in a pond, extend beyond our personal space, influencing the emotional climate of those around us. The concept of emotional contagion underscores how our mental state, positive or negative, can be ‘contagious,’ impacting the well-being of our loved ones and community.
Making Better Choices this Fall
This is a list of actionable steps for making better choices to nurture one’s own mental health and the well-being of others:
- Adopt a healthier diet. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Limit processed foods and sugary drinks.
- Engage in regular physical activity. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week.
- Get enough sleep. Adults generally need 7-8 hours of sleep per night.
- Spend time in nature. Take a walk in the park, go for a hike in the woods, or simply sit outside and enjoy the fresh air.
- Connect with loved ones. Spend time with family and friends, or volunteer in your community.
- Seek professional help when necessary. If you are struggling with your mental health, don’t be afraid to see a therapist.
As the golden leaves of autumn remind us of the impermanent nature of life’s seasons, let this fall be a testament to our innate power to adapt, grow, and transform. Our choices, laced with self-compassion and awareness, hold the key not just to our own mental sanctuary but to a world where empathy, understanding, and collective well-being flourish.
Did you know?
1 in 4 adults in the United States experiences a mental health condition each year.
The prevalence of mental health conditions among adolescents is increasing.
In 2021, 13.6% of adolescents aged 12-17 experienced major depression, an increase from 10.7% in 2012.
Making healthy choices, such as eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep, can help to improve mental health.
SAD, or seasonal affective disorder, is a type of depression that affects people during the fall and winter months.
It is estimated that 5% of adults in the United States experience SAD each year.
People with mental health conditions are more likely to experience other health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
Sources: MentalHealth.gov, National Institute of Mental Health