What Season Are You? Mental Health and Weather

It’s not the wildflowers or the long sunny days that let me know summer is in full swing, it’s that Susie has stopped coming to counseling. Many of her complaints—dissatisfaction with her house, her family, her job, her friendships—can be “fixed” by the change in season. Now she can spend time on her deck (which she loves), go on a hike when her kids are driving her nuts, and spend the weekends canoeing with friends. Susie came in with symptoms of depression. She wasn’t sleeping well or exercising, was eating too much, had little energy, felt sad and hopeless, and didn’t enjoy in her normal activities (anhedonia). But now Susie finds herself emotionally balanced, physically nourished and loving life.

Have you noticed the arrival of longer days and sunshine also brings happiness to some in our community? I’m not talking about a diagnosable disorder, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder, but instead about how weather can affect our mental health. Some people in our mountain community thrive on the coziness of the winter months, enjoying the quiet blankets of snow, warm wood stoves, and winter sports. Others thrive in the summer months, exploring the hiking trails, rising with the early sun, and tending gardens.

As Susie’s counselor, I’m thrilled that she feels great and is enjoying life again! I completely support her decision to take some time off and enjoy her favorite activities. She and I have seen this cycle before, joking that I’ll see talk to her right after the first snow. When Susie returns in the fall I will talk to her about translating her summer health into winter health. Can hiking become snow shoeing? What weekend activities could she plan to get her friends together? What are some ways to help her kids cope with “cabin fever” in the cold months? How can we work together to get ahead of her depressive symptoms?

This week take some time to notice which side of the season fence you tend to feel your best and use the information to make your “off season” more tolerable.