Fall’s a Bummer to Some People. Here’s What to Do If It Brings You Down.

Don't feel bad if fall and winter makes you feel blue. It's not uncommon. Here are some tips for beating it. (Shutterstock)

By Billy Ball

September 21, 2023

Lots of people greet fall like an old friend. For others, the dying leaves and shorter days are one big bummer. Here are some tips if the season’s change is getting you down.

Not everyone’s here for the pumpkin spice. This one’s for you.

When everyone else is reveling in the fall—the brisk temperatures, browning leaves, and campfire season—there are plenty of us, myself included, who can catch a serious case of the bummers this time of year. 

Is it the shorter days? The aging and dying all around us? Probably all of them. This time of year can feel like an unwanted sunset. Like a fog settling around your feet. It feels inevitable in a bad way. 

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There are clinical terms for it. Seasonal affective disorder, appropriately acronymed SAD, isn’t a metaphor— it’s a chemical change, your body reacting to your environment. You don’t need a diagnosis to feel it in your bones. 

But it doesn’t need to be so all-consuming. It could be just an irritation, a thing we can plan for. Like a storm or a frost. I’ve pulled together some research on ways to fight these seasonal blues. Rest assured, I’ll be trying them with you.

What’s SAD?

If you’re reading this, you probably don’t need me to tell you. 

It’s a change in our mental health brought on by the seasons. Fall and winter usually take the blame. Something about the metaphor for aging and dying. 

But it’s science, too. As Johns Hopkins Medicine explains, darker, shorter days change us. They cause the body to produce more melatonin, a hormone associated with sleep. 

Some folks report feeling irritable, having a hard time sleeping, losing energy, gaining weight, and struggling to concentrate. 

We can’t change the seasons (even if climate change is doing its best). But we can change our habits.

How to fight it 

The season’s changed. So should you. And because fall is going to come, like it or not, try to plan on doing things differently this time of year. In lieu of changing your environment, which you can to a degree, change your habits. 

Here are some quick tips for staving off seasonal sadness, per health care experts at the Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins, and the National Institutes of Health

  • Get active. Easier said than done. Feeling down makes you feel like laying around. But it’s worth it to move. Activity changes the chemicals in your body. 
  • Don’t be a loner. Be social. We’re social creatures, most of us. Give in to that part of us. Go to all the hayrides, pumpkin patches, corn mazes, and festivals in your area. We collected some of our favorites here. 
  • Eat good food. This season begs for big, heavy food, which can also slow us down. We love the hearty stews too, but aim for balance. 
  • Go to the sun. If it’s the sun we’re missing this time of year, and it is, go to it when it’s out. Light is your ally. In fact, light therapy is one of the best ways to combat this particular strain of depression. 
  • Limit the drugs and booze. There’s a reason people try out their “dry” months in the fall and winter. It’s when you most benefit from avoiding depressants like alcohol. 
  • You know yourself. What makes you feel good? Gardening, walking, singing, dancing? Go do it. 
  • Talk to healthcare providers. Therapists can do wonders. Sometimes psychiatrists will suggest medicine. Trust them. 
  • Be patient with yourself. Mood isn’t a light switch. And anyone who thinks you should just snap out of it—oh, bless their heart—doesn’t understand. 

Author

  • Billy Ball

    Billy Ball is Cardinal & Pine's senior community editor. He’s covered local, state and national politics, government, education, criminal justice, the environment and immigration in North Carolina for almost two decades, winning state, regional and national awards for his reporting and commentary.

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