Updated September 2023
My daughter and her husband visited from Florida last year to see the fall colors (and what a difference a year makes). Sometimes it’s nice to see the world through someone else’s eyes. For a couple of hot-house flowers, the weather was blustery, but the autumn color was at its finest and my guests were game to explore the splendors of a Michigan fall.
The Change of Seasons Funk
To be honest, I have been walking around in a bit of a funk since September. Even when Michigan is at its most beautiful – autumn bellowing from every maple, oak and burning bush. I have kept on hiking, sticking to a schedule and connecting to preserve my recovery, but if I’m alone for a minute, my thoughts wax melancholic. I look forward to having a couple of energetic people asking, “What’s next?” Family, friends and a brisk hike will put the kibosh on my yearly bout of SAD.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – It Happens Every Year…
I’ve been at this recovery “thing” for a while now, and it always surprises me when my goals for a life of glorious sobriety and my neural pathways are at odds. By now I should realize that my own brain is not always my best friend. So, when negative patterns emerge I feel the need to research, reflect and share my experiences.
Which Came First, the Seasonal Affective Disorder or the Addiction?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons, typically starting in the late fall and early winter and going away during the spring and summer. Depressive episodes linked to the summer can occur, but are much less common than winter episodes of SAD. National Institute of Mental Health
We know that 20 percent of those with anxiety or mood disorders, such as depression, also experience substance use disorders. And vice versa – it’s a classic riddle of which came first – the blues or the bottle of Chardonnay… It stands to reason that the coming of winter would trigger melancholy, especially in the year 2020, when being outdoors is one way to manage anxiety and cabin fever.
So, What is the Best Way to Shake the Autumn Blues?
Don’t brush off that yearly feeling as simply a case of the “winter blues” or a seasonal funk that you have to tough out on your own. Take steps to keep your mood and motivation steady throughout the year. The Mayo Clinic
Thankfully, I do not have severe depression. I have many tools in my recovery valise. And I do try to keep my “mood and motivation steady” at the best and worst of times (again, 2020). But it always helps to get outside with folks you love – especially when the hills are alive with color.
5 Tips for Kicking Up the Best of a Michigan Autumn (and Beating the SAD Blues):
1. Forest Bathing
Sometimes this is called “flooding the senses”. And like the old hippie song says, “We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.” When we get outside, away from the noise of the city, we can soak in the sounds, sights, touch and smells of nature. (I’d be careful about the “taste” – toadstools and holly berries – maybe bring a bag of nuts?). Being present in the moment and fully aware of your surroundings will bring small miracles your way.
2. Everything Old is New Again…
Change it up! Experience your surroundings with someone new or find a different place to soak up the autumn gorgeousness. Increase your pace in the cool air or try a new move – climb a tree or a sand dune. These fresh pursuits will increase creativity, decrease blood pressure, clarify problem solving, generate more vivid dreams (and deeper sleep), and increase appetite for healthy food.
3. Speaking of Healthy Food…
A dietitian would probably tell me that my body is diverted from optimal function by my unhealthy eating habits. My liver, stomach and vital organs are either trying desperately to process a torrent of sugar, or eating my body’s own muscle mass to survive. I’ve been known to go all day without eating, only to devour a bag of caramel corn on the way home from the grocery store. But, it’s nice to eat. Sitting down at a table with those you love (or like), having a conversation and really tasting the nutrition – it makes me happy… It will make you happy…
4. Laughter, Journaling and Photographs…
Photos and journal entries allow you to relive the good times and experience the health and emotional benefits more than once. Try not to take yourself too seriously – and for God’s sake find something to belly-laugh about!
5. Therapeutic Shuffling
I have decided that you cannot be miserable if you are playing in fallen leaves. So, rake them up and jump! Or throw them in the air. Or best of all, shuffle. Find a path with crisp fallen leaves and shuffle.
The Seasons they are a Changing…
For those of us in Michigan, winter is coming. Just when we get used to autumn, winter tiptoes in. It’s really the perfect metaphor. One of the most surprising (and difficult) things about recovery is learning to be here NOW – in the present, fully engaged. And one of the lessons I have learned is that nothing stays the same. Nor should it.
Winter will require a different set of boots and a stocking cap, maybe a slightly different attitude. If getting outside helps you during the pandemic, know that the proper clothes make all the difference when winter blows in. And the tips for beating the blues above still apply. Laugh, love, engage, document, and go full throttle into this happy, sad, embracing, wonderful sober life!