Embracing the benefits of Spring and Summer for your mental health

By Kudakwashe Banda

There is a condition often referred to in mental health as Seasonal Affective Disorder. This refers to a condition in which a person prone to depression whether it is mild or severe experiences a dip in their mood due to the change of season from summer into the colder months of winter. Here in the Southern Hemisphere it takes place between the months of May and August. Mental health research has shown that the shorter days and less hours of sunshine have a mild or severe negative effect on one’s mood. I personally first experienced this myself several years ago; in fact my initial diagnosis of depression was done towards the beginning of winter. A few months later in September of that year I noticed a marked difference in my mood and temperament. My mood remarkably became lighter and my thought processes generally took on a more positive outlook. My energy levels also increased and I was able to be much more productive. As Spring progressed into Summer I felt incredibly well. It was a miracle indeed! Over the years, even after having completed treatment, I continue to notice this pattern in my mental health and have come to embrace it and make the most of it each year. The psychiatrist who treated me at the time explained to me how he warmer weather and more hours of sunshine have a marked effect on improving one’s mental health and put into perspective why this is. Below I’ll share how I’ve learnt to make the most of these seasons and the positive effects for oneself.

You will probably notice that your level of energy increases as it gets warmer. Make the most of this and make it a point to wake up earlier and start getting your dose of sunshine early in the day. Use this time to get in your exercise or do a hobby that positively uplifts you and makes you happy. I for example like to carry out my journal writing and reading early in the morning in the summer months. If you exercise it sets a tone for the rest of your day to be a better one as more endorphins and “feel good hormones” have been released.

Plan how you will spend your days carefully and methodically. This is very important because the lighter and happier your mood becomes, you may verge onto becoming something referred to in mental health as mania, or becoming manic. This is a state in which because your “feel good” chemicals in your brain are at an incredibly more positive level, there is a chance that you may become so overwhelmed with how energetic and happy you are feeling you will begin to go overboard in wanting to do several things and the ideas in your head may become quite grandiose to a point of being unreasonable. I was warned of this by the psychiatrist who treated me for depression and yes I did experience it! So it is important to plan how you go about your day and stick to those pre-laid plans.

Summer is the season for those outdoor activities such as braais and picnics and spending more time with family and friends. With this also comes along the consumption of the sundowners, the cocktails, the beer, the wine, generally whatever tipple makes your socialising better. The consumption of alcohol has always been a tricky and sensitive area in one who suffers from mental health. Alcohol in itself is a depressant and so its effects on the body and state of mind if one is prone to mental health conditions should be taken into considerable consideration before and whilst consuming. Alcohol is also often used to anesthetize one’s feelings when one is trying to not deal with a negative situation in their life. There is also the temptation to consume more because you will be feeling in a much lighter mood. It is important that one really limit themselves when it comes to how much alcohol you consume particularly if you are prone to depression and other mental health issues. You do not want to lose any of these beautiful days of this season because your positive mood has been altered by over indulgence, or worse still a day wasted by those all dreaded hangovers!

For those who suffer from mental health, there will be a lot of days that are not easy, so when days and seasons come that have a positive effect, make the most of them. Embrace the new seasons and use it as a time to work on improving yourself and the environment for those around you. Offer help to those you notice may be struggling mentally around you. Most importantly, be happy, for Spring and Summer come but once a year!