During a “normal time,” the approach of the cooler months can elicit feelings of dread. Many struggle with seasonal depression and are impacted greatly by the shorter days, having less time outside, less social interaction due to changes in weather, and the holiday season. This year is unique in that we now have to add fears of COVID-19, an election and everyone’s reaction to its outcome, the most intense social unrest in decades, and adjusting to (continued) school and working from home. We don’t know if we will be able to see loved ones for the holidays or if we will be alone. The list goes on and on.
In short, it is completely reasonable to have concerns about what the fall and winter will bring. Now is a good time to think about coping strategies to use during that time and start to mentally prepare.
8 CBT and DBT Skills To Use This Fall And Winter:
- Cope Ahead. I recommend trying to cope ahead for the season change. The more you worry about a negative outcome, the more you mentally rehearse that scenario. It can be very helpful to plan ahead for encountering some challenges and then using coping skills successfully. Picture yourself struggling with a scenario and using coping skills to manage. For example, if there’s a high likelihood you will have less social interaction, imagine the feelings of loneliness you can reasonably expect and then imagine yourself taking steps to mitigate those feelings like connecting virtually with others, spending time with a pet, and curling up with a blanket to watch a comedy or “feel good” movie.
- Make A Schedule. In general, having a schedule is extremely helpful for all individuals. Try to stick to a daily schedule with relatively consistent sleep and wake up times as well as regular meal times. Plan some activities and jot them down so you can give yourself credit for what you have accomplished. Having a sense of accomplishment or mastery can go a long way in boosting your mood.
- Use Behavioral Activation. The premise behind behavioral activation is that by increasing your activity level and potential to experience positive emotions you will receive positive reinforcement that in turn will boost your mood. When you wake up, try to get as much natural light as possible. Consider getting a light box. Shower and get ready as you normally would even if staying home all day. Try to get outside at least once per day. Incorporate physical activity into your routine in whatever way possible. Listen to upbeat music and plan to do things you enjoy.
- Get Professional Help. Seek out therapy in advance. Therapy is more accessible than ever as it is available online. Find a therapist. Please see our Free Guide on “How To Find The Right Therapist.”
- Find Something to Look Forward To. It can help a lot to plan things to look forward to (even if in the very remote future) or if they are small things. During this time it can be easy to fall into a lull of monotony and that can be a downer. If you plan something in the future then you have something to count down to.
- Decorate. Make your home as aesthetically pleasing as possible by utilizing the five senses! Get some candles that smell good or use aromatherapy. Find some pillows with different textures and get a really soft and cozy blanket. Weighted blankets can also be soothing.
- Distinguish Thought from Reality. Your thoughts and the language you use when “talking to yourself” have a direct impact on your emotional state. Watch out for extreme language like “always, never, totally, 100% and not at all.” Also look out for catastrophizing or awfulizing language which indicates that you are jumping to conclusions and assuming the worst. Statements involving conviction about something that hasn’t yet happened is a good red flag for this. For example: “This is going to be the worst winter ever.” “No one will be available and I will be completely alone.” Once you’ve identified these thoughts, it can help to label them as thoughts and remind yourself that it is not reality. Furthermore, you do not need to believe everything you think. Replacing a thought like “This is going to be the worst winter ever” with “I am having the thought that this will be a rough winter.” This can create some distance between yourself and the thought which can help you to take a step back.
- Cognitive Restructuring. You can also acknowledge that you’re catastrophizing or being extreme in your thinking and make appropriate modifications. Even something subtle like replacing a definitive statement about the future with “there is a high likelihood that…” can help. A good general rule of thumb is to try to be skeptical of your own thoughts and make small modifications as you can. This will have a cumulative effect.
Do your best to try out some of these strategies. The thing with coping skills is that not everything works for everyone so it is important to find out what will work best for you. Hint: it is not always what you think! Try to be open to trying these coping skills in advance and then you’ll not only know what will help but it won’t be the first time you try to use the skill when you need it. And give yourself a pat on the back for planning ahead to make this a better fall and winter.