When I worked as an on-call mental health crises responder in the Seattle area, our busiest time of year wasn’t Christmas as many people suspect–it was thought to be this time of year, starting with what my colleagues called “Manic March.” I don’t know if we were actually busier, but it felt busier. When the weather shifts from the winter gloom of the Pacific Northwest to the erratic, but often sunnier, weather of spring; people’s moods seem to shift as well.
What does this mean? For some people, the weather itself is a trigger for crises, but for others, there is an event or reminder associated with the time of year. While the latter isn’t necessarily a diagnosable mental illness, it’s still something that can affect your life and your behavior. As a personal example, mid-March can be a tough time for me because of a tragedy that occurred years ago with someone very close to me. Regardless of whether I would overtly think about this person or the tragedy, people close to me told me that I got a little irritable around this time of year. Now that I’m aware of that, I can be conscientious of my self-care until it passes.
If this time (or any time) of year is difficult for you too, whether it’s the weather, memories of difficult times, or general mental health issues, I have a few tips for you.
Acknowledge Your Feelings
Your feelings are what they are. Just own them. They are valid. They are neither good nor bad, but pay attention and attend to them. A former supervisor of mine used to tell me that they are like the dashboard lights in a car. They tell you something is going on (though we may not know what it is– stupid, generic “check engine” light), and you can ignore them for a while, but if you ignore them for too long something may go wrong. He was right. If we ignore our actual feelings, our behavior may get – and this is a technical term I spent years in grad school learning – wonky. If our behavior gets all wonky and off baseline, that’s where we see problems. However, if we can acknowledge our feelings in a nonjudgmental manner, then we can begin to recognize and change problem patterns in the behavior that follows.
Trust Certain People About Your Behavior
There’s a classical term called scotoma which in psychology means a person’s blind spot about their personality. By definition, we can’t see what ours are because we don’t see them (Circular logic. Yay!), so we have to choose to trust certain people to point them out. I say ‘certain people’ because it would be exhausting to care about what every single person thinks of us, whether they know us or not. We have to pick whose opinions really matter to us and choose to listen to them because a change in our behavior might be another indicator that something is wrong. If my wife or best friend came to me and said, “Dude, what’s going on with you lately? Something’s up,” I’m going to listen and think about it. I can’t say I’d do the same if it were the guy at the bus stop. Why? I trust those closest to me to have my back and support me, so even if they say something negative, it’s probably for the right reasons: care and concern.
Take Care of Yourself
If you find that your mood and/or behavior does change in a difficult way in a given time of year, take some extra steps to take care of yourself. Take a walk. Talk to a friend. Do 10 minutes a day of mindfulness practice. Get regular sleep. Make a to-do list and knock a few easy items off it. Take a 15-minute break from everything. Cook yourself a healthy meal and stack the self-care by inviting a friend to join you. There are a lot of great mobile apps out there that actually help you with this stuff. Here are a few that I know and like:
SuperBetter – This is a great app that is also a faux RPG. It gives you tasks to complete which are all focused on being kind to yourself. Then it rewards you with resilience points (while hopefully helping you build real resilience, too). What’s cool is that you can share your accomplishments on social media which makes any of your friends or followers your accountabilibuddies, should you choose. Plus, SuperBetter is a free app, so you have nothing to lose by trying it.
Habitica – This is an RPG-style productivity and behavior-change app. A lot of us at Take This use it. Some of us even quest together in the same party. It allows you to list daily tasks, to-do list items, and habits you want to develop or lose. Your avatar gets XP and gold rewards when you complete them, but be warned: your avatar gets injured when you don’t complete them. It’s free, but you can also choose to buy premium content. Since I started using it, my productivity and physical health have both gone up by a noticeable amount.
Various health tracker apps – There are too many to list, thanks to wearables becoming more common. Depending on which you choose, they allow you to do a good job of tracking various things like sleep, physical activity, heart rate, sun exposure, weight, and other health-related metrics. The beauty of these is they allow you to track trends over time, and the wearables automatically sync to apps. Personally, I use the Microsoft Band 2, and I really like it, but it’s just one of a lot of great options.
Hopefully, these ideas are helpful to you. If you’re finding they are not, or even if they are, and you continue to struggle with certain times of the year, don’t be afraid to reach out to local mental health professional. A good mental health professional will compassionately learn all about you and collaborate with you on ways to help you out of whatever funk you are in or challenges you face.
Raffael Boccamazzo (AKA “Dr. B”) is a doctor of clinical psychology and clinical director of TakeThis.org. He also runs a private psychotherapy and psychological assessment practice in the Seattle area and works with several local groups as a social skills coach, often for older teens and young adults with high functioning autism spectrum diagnoses. In his spare time, he cooks, acts, and plays oodles of different tabletop and video games.
Feature Image Credit: 500 Days of Summer/Fox Searchlight