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By Donna Loza, LCPC, CADC, CODP I

Living in the Midwest offers us the joy to experience all four seasons. In the summer
months, we are outdoors, maybe at the beach, possibly watching a favorite baseball team,
grilling burgers, catching fireflies in mason jars or simply laughing around a bonfire with
friends and family.

As children head back to school, we sense a shift in the weather as we reach for our
jackets. We observe the leaves of the trees turning different shades of red, orange and yellow.
We hear the cries of geese as they fly south. We watch squirrels as they scurry around
collecting acorns. We instinctively know, fall is coming.

As we move through this season, we begin to notice less daylight. We understand from
our science classes that the earth orbits the sun once a year causing the two hemispheres to
shift positions, if the hemisphere is toward the sun we are in summer while the hemisphere
pointing away gives us winter. The earth tilts as it orbits the sun giving us less exposure to the
incoming rays of the sun. For more fun facts about the planet and our solar system, check out

This lack of sunlight and changing of the seasons can cause a disruption in our
hormones, especially serotonin and melatonin. Serotonin is a chemical messenger in the
brain that assists in regulating our feelings of happiness, anxiety and motivation. Melatonin is
also a hormone that our brains produce in response to darkness. If our bodies are exposed to
an increase in sunlight, this decreases melatonin production and therefore gives us more
energy and motivation.

With these two particular hormones, our circadian system is disrupted when we
experience less sunlight. In the fall, we also change the clocks back an hour which gives us
less daylight to play with. Our circadian system regulates our sleep which affects our moods
and overall wellbeing. If there is less light at 4:30 pm it might cause us to feel sleepy, less
motivated to do any projects around the house. With less sunlight, it might cause us to change
into our pjs and fuzzy slippers when we get home from work by 6:00 pm. When we have less
sunlight, we might think about binge watching the latest movie series while eating a pepperoni
pizza that we got from UberEATS rather than meeting friends out for dinner and drinks.
Additional symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder or the Winter Blues as we sometimes call
it, might include but not limited to: anxiety, loneliness, sadness, appetite changes, irritability or
social isolation.

How do we prepare for this change of seasons? We can start with the practice of
mindfulness. This is about paying attention to the present and focusing on what we can do for
ourselves in nurturing our mental health as we prepare to head into winter. There are
activities that are mood-boosting that increase the happy hormones that give us meaning and
purpose outside of our pj’s and fuzzy slippers. We can turn the winter blues into winter

1. Wake with the Sun – As we adjust our life to getting up with the sun, we do this by
permitting the sun to beam through our bedroom windows, teaching our bodies to
naturally rise from slumber. In waking with the sun, it allows our bodies to take in
the maximum amount of daylight that we can get. In doing this, we can shift our
bodies to go to bed at a reasonable time offering us 6-8 of restful sleep we all crave
and need.

2. Get up and Move – Exercise either indoors on a treadmill or bike, going to the gym
or taking a run or walk outdoors, at least 30 minutes per day, offers us a release of
natural endorphins. Exercise can cause the neurotransmitters dopamine,
noradrenaline and serotonin to start firing off in our brain causing us to feel better
and energized. If you are someone who sits down all day at work, try to take short
breaks throughout the day to walk up and down the hallway or take a flight of stairs
to another section of the building. Your body and mind will thank you.

3. Make Plans – There are plenty of wonderful activities that are available to us.
outside the home. There are museums and exhibitions that can be found at
www.getyourguide.com As the holidays approach, various towns have holiday light
shows, Lilacia Park in Lombard shines from December 2 through January 1, 2024.
Sparkle Light Festival in Rosemont offers a fantastic light show November 17
through December 31, 2023. The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, also offers a one hour
guided tour of fun and fantastic display of lights and music November 18 through
January 6, 2024. If money is tight, taking a friend or two for a walk around the
neighborhood or nearby towns to see the light displays can also be fun and social.
Check out 15 free holiday activities for kids in Chicagoland at

4. Volunteering – There is much research that speaks about how volunteering has
proven to bolster self-esteem as well as increase confidence in one’s own ability to
make a difference in the lives of others. When helping others, one uses the skills
they already have and then pays it forward as they mentor or teach others those
same skills. In volunteering, it offers more structure and routine during the winter
season, offers a chance to be out of the house and provides us a healthy distraction
to the cold temperatures and dark nights. In volunteering it allows us to be out in
community, while building friendships with others. For more information on
volunteering check out www.createthegood.aarp.org

As we move through the winter season with a plan, being creative about how we spend our
time it offers us a chance to embrace this time. When we engage in more daylight activities, by
getting out of the house or office, we find ourselves enjoying being more social and active even
if it is for a short period of time. In doing this, those good feeling hormones, will flow more
willingly throughout our brains and bodies when we become more intentional about living our
lives with purpose and meaning. And before you know it, spring will be around the corner.