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Protecting Your Mental Wellbeing as the Seasons Change

The moment many of us have been eagerly awaiting – the start of Spring — has finally arrived! Did you know that natural medicine traditions like Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine base their entire understanding of health on the distinctions between the seasons? Each season, according to these traditions, has its own set of rhythms and rituals. 

As humans, our overall wellbeing is intricately tied to nature. The amount of daylight we experience, time spent in green and blue spaces like parks and meadows or lakes and rivers, seasonal foods that are locally available to us, temperature and even air quality all impact our mental wellbeing. Think about it – your body needs more energy when the weather gets colder, so you find yourself craving warm things (hot cocoa, cozy sweaters, fireplaces) that make your body’s job easier. On the flipside, summer weather wears our bodies down. Extended periods in heat can cause sleeplessness, lethargy, lack of appetite and dehydration, all of which can lead to aggressive behaviors and anxiety. 

Two years into the pandemic, it’s time to recognize that things will never go back to exactly the way they were and create new practices that prioritize mental and physical wellbeing both in and out of the workplace. The seasons are changing around us with purpose, and with these five tips from Mental Health First Aid At Work, you can follow suit. 

Self-Evaluation: Identify How You’re Feeling. 
Acknowledging your emotions can make things feel less overwhelming. Take some time to sort through your emotions in whatever way works best for you – journal, talk to a friend or spend some quiet time alone thinking. Once you have a better idea of the specific feelings you’re experiencing, you can start making plans to cope with them. 

If you struggle to identify how you’re feeling because your mind is racing, try using the acronym S.T.O.P.  

  • S: Stop what you are doing. Put things down for a moment. 
  • T: Take a breath. Breathe naturally and follow your breath coming in and of your nose. You can even say to yourself “in,” as you’re breathing in and “out,” as you’re breathing out to help with concentration. 
  • O: Observe your thoughts, feelings and emotions. Recognize that thoughts are not facts, and they are not permanent. If a thought arises that you are inadequate, notice the thought, let it be and move on. Research from UCLA shows that simply naming your emotions can have a calming effect. Then notice your body. Are you standing or sitting? How is your posture? Any aches or pains?  
  • P: Proceed with something that will support you in the moment – like reaching out to a friend for support, rubbing your shoulders or drinking a glass of water. 

Acknowledge What You’ve Lost.
While spring is typically welcomed with joy, rejuvenation and celebration, it can also be a harsh reminder that we are still in the midst of a pandemic, and we may not be able to do all the things we normally would. If you’re missing a loved one, think of ways to honor them in the new season. If you’ve lost a job or had to drop out of school, take the time to recognize the challenges that came with that and reflect on what you’ve learned. Even if you haven’t lost anything concrete, we’ve all lost our sense of normalcy to an extent since the pandemic and it’s okay—even healthy— to grieve that. 

Make The Most of It. 
There’s no denying that things will be different this year than they were pre-COVID. However, there are surely some spring activities you can keep on your calendar, from physically distanced days at the beach or park, to cleaning and reorganizing your home/office. For the things you can’t do, brainstorm how to adapt them for COVID times. If you’re disappointed about parties being cancelled, consider planning a small outdoor gathering. Missing the social aspects of being in the office? Try organizing coffee shop work dates with a nearby coworker or friend if it’s safe and comfortable for you. Feeling lonely because you won’t get to see your family? Try hosting a group video chat to reconnect, share fond memories and talk about what you’re most excited to do when you see each other next.  

Don’t Romanticize Your Typical Plans. 
While warmer months may typically be fraught with excitement and joy, they can also be times of high stress. In fact, death by suicide rates often increase during spring and summer, and people report higher levels of anxiety. The heat can be dehydrating, which reduces healthy brain functioning, and too much daylight can interfere with sleep and even exacerbate manic episodes of bipolar disorder. Even though you may be giving up some of your favorite things about the warmer months this year, you’re probably leaving some stressors behind too (social-media-induced Fear of Missing Out (FOMO), anyone?). Be mindful not to distort the situation and make it seem worse than it really is. Change can be hard, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Find creative ways to adapt or consider starting new traditions – they may even add more meaning to your life. 

Practice Gratitude. 
Make a conscious effort to regularly identify some things that you’re grateful for. It can be something as broad as your health or employment status, or something as specific as your favorite song playing on the radio when you get in the car. Practicing gratitude is shown to decrease depression and anxiety and is associated with a host of mental and physical benefits like improved sleep, mood and immunity. 

Self-care is vital to maintaining your wellbeing. Be proactive and create a seasonal self-care plan with the help of our blog, Self-Care: Where Do I Start? With these tips, we hope you enjoy a seamless transition into spring. Thank you for choosing to #BeTheDifference!  

 

Sources 

Centerstone. (n.d.) How summer affects suicide rates. Centerstone. https://centerstone.org/our-resources/health-wellness/how-summer-affects-suicide-rates/  

Cortez, M. (2022, Feb. 13). Here’s what the pandemic has in store for the world next. Bloomberg. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2022-02-13/when-will-covid-end-what-new-covid-variants-post-pandemic-life-mean-for-2022 

Folk, J. (2021, May 16). Summer anxiety – why you can feel more anxious in the summer. AnxietyCentre.com. https://www.anxietycentre.com/faq/more-anxious-in-the-summer-anxiety/ 

Halloran, K. (n.d.). A history of spring traditions. Mother Earth Living. https://www.motherearthliving.com/gardening/a-history-of-spring-traditions/#:~:text=A%20History%20of%20Spring%20Traditions%20An%20American%20painted,of%20a%20new%20season%20in%20each%20passing%20day 

Kennedy, M. (2020, Dec. 15).  5 easy ways to practice gratitude and make giving thanks part of your daily routine. Insider. https://www.insider.com/how-to-practice-gratitude#:~:text=5%20easy%20ways%20to%20practice%20gratitude%20and%20make,Create%20a%20gratitude%20jar.%20…%20More%20items…%20 

McPherson, K. (2019, Nov. 20). There’s A Good Reason Why A Bread Bowl Full Of Bread Is All You Crave In The Winter. Romper. https://www.romper.com/p/why-do-you-crave-carbs-in-winter-its-plain-old-biology-experts-say-19362997  

Mental Health First Aid. (2020). Mental Health First Aid USA for adults assisting adults. National Council for Behavioral Health. 

Schumann, M. (2021, April 8). Can expressing gratitude improve your mental, physical health? Mayo Clinic Health System. https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/can-expressing-gratitude-improve-health 

Tracy, N. (2022, Jan. 7). What is a manic episode? What do manic episodes feel like? HealthyPlace. https://www.healthyplace.com/bipolar-disorder/bipolar-symptoms/what-is-a-manic-episode-what-do-manic-episodes-feel-like 

University of California – Los Angeles. (2007, June 22). Putting feelings into words produces therapeutic effects in the brain. ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/06/070622090727.htm. 

White, P.; Coventry, P. (n.d.). Green and blue space. University of York. https://www.york.ac.uk/healthsciences/closing-the-gap/research-themes/green-and-blue-space/