• Lower light levels and less time outdoors can contribute to low mood, or even seasonal affective disorder (SAD), in the autumn and winter months

  • Author Dani DiPirro shares her 6 self-care tips for the changing seasons

  • Self-care is vital, but sometimes we need professional support. If you are struggling despite taking care of yourself, find your therapist here

As the days grow shorter and colder, many people struggle with the winter blues. Even though autumn and winter are filled with beauty and inspiration, they also can be challenging – especially for those who thrive in sunnier seasons. The seasons have a notable impact on most of us, even if we don’t always realise it. Each season has its highs and lows, and each one is filled with valuable life lessons, but some seasons can be more difficult than others. If you find your mental health suffers in autumn and winter, here are some tips you might try to help make these seasons more enjoyable.

1. Venture outdoors 

The lack of light and shorter days can make it tough to go outside (especially if, like me, you're not an outdoorsy type to begin with), but if you're feeling down, making the effort to spend time in the fresh air can really help. Even just a quick walk around the block can improve your mood.

2. Seek sunlight

Pull up the blinds! Open the curtains! The lack of sunlight is one of the reasons for feeling down during darker seasons, so the more sunshine you can allow into your home, the better. Going outside isn't always an option, but take advantage of sunny days indoors by allowing the light in.

While I’ve personally never tried a light box, it’s on my wish list for this upcoming season because it seems like light boxes help a great deal for those with seasonal depression (or less serious cases of the winter blues). Apparently there are many different types (as well as something called a "dawn simulator" that's used to wake you up in the morning) so be sure to do your research and figure out which one would be best for you.

3. Make some art

Art therapy really does work, and I honestly don't know if I would have survived some of life’s winters without making art. I know art isn't everyone's thing, but if you're feeling down, give it a try. It doesn't have to be traditional art either – try writing, pottery, drawing, painting, or sewing. Anything creative that allows you to get in a flow for a bit can help improve your mental state.

4. Practice yoga

Though I’m not particularly good at yoga, and I generally do it for only about 10-15 minutes every day, making even a little bit of time to do it always makes me feel a better, especially on extra gloomy days. (My favourite is Yoga with Adriene on YouTube but there are tons of yogis online!) If yoga isn't your thing, any type of movement or exercise will be beneficial. 

5. Make plans and stay connected

When I'm feeling down, the last thing I want to do is be around people. But I've discovered that it's often what my mind needs when I'm feeling down. I don't enjoy going out in the cold, but indoor activities can work, too (as long as you take proper precautions). If you can’t be physically with someone else, a quick phone call or video chat can also help when you’re battling the blues.

6. Stick to a schedule

With the lack of daylight, it's tempting to go to bed super early or sleep in (if you have the option), but I've read (and also believe) that sticking to a schedule is important for managing or preventing seasonal sadness. The body and mind love schedules, and they give you a sense of purpose, which is important when you're feeling down. Your winter schedule can be different from your summer one, but just try to stick to a daily plan!

There are many options to explore if you're struggling during the darker days, but hopefully some of these suggestions will help. If you find yourself suffering a great deal, it’s always good to seek out professional help (whether in the form of therapy or from your doctor). And if you’re struggling now, know that you're not alone; it's perfectly normal to experience down days during periods of change. Keep in mind that, even when it doesn't seem like it, the difficult darkness will pass. Seasons always change, and the way you feel will change, too.

Dani DiPirro is the author of Grow Through It: Inspiration for Weathering Life’s Seasons

Further reading

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD): channel your inner squirrel

What autumn can teach us about letting go

Why is autumn such a popular time for therapy?

6 tips for a well-stocked mental health toolkit