Fall can be a beautiful time in the Pacific Northwest. The grass is green, and the trees have vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows. As we move to winter, leaves begin to drop, the cedar trees drop their helicopter seeds, and we head outside with our rakes to chase the leaves the wind blows across the lawns. Before we know it, the grey skies return, rain falls, and daylight significantly reduces.
When I used to commute to an office, I found this time of year difficult. I could no longer open my windows or sunroof and rarely experienced fresh air. I would go from the house to the garage, get into the car to drive over an hour to yet another garage, get into an elevator, to sit in an office. I would be indoors all day, only to return to the elevator, to again go to the garage, get into the car, and commute to my home garage and back inside. After a few weeks, it felt like the movie Groundhog Day with events repeating. It felt like it would be forever before I could have the windows open again.
It is important to recognize these transitions are often gradual. The leaves do not change colors and fall off the trees in a day. We don’t go from nearly 16 hours of daylight to under 8-1/2 hours in a week. I did not wake up and suddenly stop opening the windows; while on the other side, the spring flowers do not just instantly appear. The changes often begin without us noticing. On one of my walks this week, I saw flower buds on the rhododendrons that will become red, purple, and white flowers in a few months. Even as we approach the winter solstice, the day with the least amount of daylight, signs of spring exists if we look.
Change to our mental health is similar to the changing of seasons; the change is often slow and gradual over time. Depression often does not show up on Tuesday and go away the following Thursday. Before we know it, we no longer see the flowers and leaves and feel like our life is stuck on repeat. However, with the right support, we can find the buds that lead to the flowers; before we know it, the leaves are back against a blue sky.
Today, I read an article in the WSJ. They cite data from the CDC suggesting that as many as 1/3 of people in the United States indicate symptoms of anxiety or depression. These numbers have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic and other increased social challenges of the past few years and is leading a task force to recommend that adults should now be screened for symptoms of anxiety and depression. Screening is as easy as answering a few questions, and may become part of our annual checkups.
This coincides with September being National Suicide Prevention Awareness month. Depression is one symptom that can be seen as a warning sign for potential suicidal ideation. Speak to your primary care provider or mental health professional if you are feeling depression or anxiety. It is important to be evaluated and treated appropriately. If you need immediate help, call the national 988 hotline, and connect with friends or family who can be a support as you need.
Many have heard of white noise. It is often the sound of a fan or buzzing and is used to mask sound and reduce distraction or sleep. Did you know there are other colors of noise, and some that may be better?
White noise is generally a constant sound. Pink is similar to white noise but has lower frequencies with sounds such as light rain, gentle streams, or leaves blowing in the wind. Brown noise is even lower than pink with sounds such as heavy rain, thunder, or waterfalls.
So which should be used? It’s all about personal preference and the situation. As I write this, I am sitting outside listening to a gentle breeze blowing the maple leaves, and ducks are in the pond flapping their wings while dipping underwater for some food. It is helping me clear my mind and concentrate, but I know the ducks would be distracting if I tried to sleep. Some great apps have prerecorded sounds, and some even let you customize the ranges to create your own white, pink, brown, or whatever color of noise you desire. Give a few a try, I would be interested in what you find.
Have you felt upset and shared it with a friend or a family member who responded, “in a hundred years, who will care?” Did you feel heard? Did it feel like they were empathetic to your emotions? Often, responses are meant to be helpful, but they can be dismissive. “In a hundred years, who will care” does not honor where we are now and what we feel now. So what do we do? We share and explore.
First, acknowledge the person, “thank you for listening.” Next, we acknowledge and ask for what we need, “that may be true, but right now I would benefit by you being with me and listening,” or “that may be true, but I could use someone to talk to about this and explore ideas and options.” Family and friends often do not mean to be dismissive, and they may think this will lessen the impact of what is happening. Be willing to ask for what you need and see where it goes. They may not have an answer, but often that’s not what we need. If this is beyond where they are at, reach out to your mental health care provider.
Wait, what? Did you really say that anxiety is healthy? Before we go there, let’s first explore what anxiety is.
Anxiety can be many things. When someone says that they are anxious, are they excited, stressed, or feeling a sense of fear? Generally speaking, anxiety is a regular part of being human. It can be helpful when it occurs in short and small amounts and does not inhibit us from social activities, work, sleep, or consumes our thoughts. Anxiety can help us become more aware of our surroundings and protect us from danger. However, it may no longer be healthy when it grows beyond and becomes overactive. This is often called an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders come in many forms. Anxiety about situations, places, people, and for some, anxiety becomes a part of everyday living. Anxiety sometimes gets combined with depression and other conditions making daily activities even more challenging.
So how do I tell if my anxiety is healthy? You are your own best judge. If you are concerned, reach out to your primary health care provider or a mental health care professional.
Here is a great mindfulness resource that I use to help on those occasional nights when I struggle to get to sleep. My favorite person has the perfect voice and message to help me get to the right state and drift off. If you find you also need that extra help, please give this a try.