It is October already… and have to admit I struggle with this time of year. Summer is over and I love the summer, but now the colder days are looming, the nights are getting longer and I am starting to feel a bit low. I catch myself wondering if I have ‘made the most’ of the summer days, and start to feel anxious about the coming months, even though actually nothing has changed.
For what seems like the hundredth autumn in a row, I fantasise about wintering far away, somewhere hot and sunny…but the reality is, just like everyone else else, I’m just going to have to cope with it, until Spring comes around again.
Yes, I know autumn is the season of the ‘Pumpkin Spiced Latte’ (and my personal favourite, the ‘Gingerbread Cream Latte’), and lots of people LOVE the cooler weather, and stunning colours and scenic beauty… BUT I always feel that at this time of year, it’s easier to slip into feeling low and my mental and physical health requires a little more care than it does in the summer months.
I start feeling more tired and everything takes much more effort. I think I probably suffer to a small degree from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), which is thought to affect one in 15 people in the UK between the months of September and April, according to the NHS. SAD can take many forms; Feeling unsettled, having trouble sleeping, experiencing mood swings and raised levels of stress, or even panic attacks. All of these have been experienced as a result of coping with seasonal change. As a counsellor, I know I was a lot busier in the autumn and winter months than in the summer, and research shows that suicide rates rise sharply at this time of year.
It is common to associate Autumn with a ‘back to reality’ vibe. Summer holidays are over and its back to the treadmill. This can trigger new anxiety and a sense of wondering whether we can cope with what is around the corner. It can even bring back to the surface old anxieties around returning to school or college, even though you may be in your forties! It can mean separation. It can certainly mean new challenges.
If you are feeling very depressed and are considering harming yourself, you MUST go and visit your GP who will be able to advise you. For me, having experienced this at the end of too many summers to count, it’s time to shake myself, count my blessings and switch my thinking. I remind myself that autumn and winter is part of the natural cycle and that this is not a permanent state. Instead of feeling sad that summer has gone, I try and consider the possibilities and opportunities autumn and winter can bring.
Have a look at my tips below to help you cope with Autumnal Anxiety, and if you have any of your own, please do add them in the comments.
1. Keep yourself busy. Make an effort to throw yourself into things rather than hiding away. Easier said than done I know, but ask for support and let people around you know how you are feeling. You will be amazed at how many people you know are feeling exactly the same!
2. Ask your GP about taking extra Vitamin D. Vitamin D is produced by our bodies when we are exposed to sunlight, so our stores understandably run low when the sunlight fades. As well as maintaining a healthy immune system and healthy bones, it is also thought to improve low mood.
3. Think about starting yoga. I am a relatively new convert, but I cannot overstate how helpful it has been since I took it up at the beginning of this year. It really helped with mental positivity during those first horrible months of Covid. If yoga isn’t your thing, consider some other exercise at home. You don’t need special equipment or even DVD’s, there are literally millions of exercise videos on YouTube. Just 20 minutes can lift your mood as well as reducing feelings of tension.
4. Make the most of the light that is available. Get outside as much as you can, go for walks in your lunch break, and get out and do some mood lifting, leaf kicking in parks and woodlands at weekends. The autumn scenery is beautiful – enjoy it! Just be sure to adjust your body clock: Get up earlier and go to bed earlier to make the most the light.
5. Have a clear out of your clothes/ books/record collection. Reorganise and declutter. It will distract you and hopefully on completion, give you a sense of achievement.
6. If you are dreading the autumn and winter, close your eyes for a moment and think of all the positive images that the season conjures for you. There must be some! I’m thinking warm coats, new boots, walks in the park, log fires, hot chocolate and toffee apples!
7. Try something new. At this time of year, a lot of adult education courses are just starting. I bet it’s been a while since you looked at what was on offer at your local college, and a lot of them are offering online courses this season. Or check out The Open University. Perhaps its finally time to think about doing that degree. A friend of mine has just started a weekly online book club! Six of them all get together (virtually) on a Tuesday night (with the obligatory glass of wine of course!) to chat about ‘the book of the week’. If you are feeling still more ambitious, start that novel, or write a poem or a song.
8. Plan some day trips away (or weekends if you are able to afford it.) There are often cheap rail deals available in the run up to Christmas and there are so many fantastic places to visit in the UK.
9. Have a spa day at home. Use hair masks and face packs. Do your nails and pamper yourself with whatever you have available. There are plenty of face masks and beauty treats you can make with household / kitchen items.
10. Consider volunteering. Volunteering for a few hours a week at a homeless shelter for example, can make all the difference to someone’s life. It is also an amazing leveller, working with people who are that much worse off than yourself.
11. Eat well. Invest in a crock pot/ slow cooker. I bought one last year and it’s heavenly coming in after a long day to the smell of an amazing stew/curry that has been slowly bubbling away all day.
12. If you have pets, spend time with them. Owning any pet is good for your health and wellbeing. All animals can lower your stress level, and cats are particularly helpful at reducing anxiety. Petting a cat has a positive calming effect. and their purring is thought to have therapeutic benefits. Dog walking has multiple benefits, getting you outside exercising as well as the possibility of seeing and interacting with others.
13. Dust off some board games that you have in the attic and have a family or friends games evening.
14. Watch old films. I love black and white movies particularly, so I am going to catch up on those DVD’s I haven’t looked at for years. Listen to music rather than have the news on constantly.
15. Structure and plan your days. It is really important to get up and go to bed at the same time as you would normally. Laying in bed all day is not going to lessen any anxiety you may be feeling. Get up, get dressed and get going. Try and keep doing things you love, even if you have to be a bit more inventive in how you can currently do them.
16. Dance! I had a disco in my lounge all on my own this morning listening to some 80’s anthems! It released lots of endorphins and I felt fantastic!
17. Think about boosting your immune system and staying healthy this winter. I was reading yesterday that the following can help boost immunity: Red peppers, garlic, spinach, ginger, yogurt, almonds, green tea and sunflower seeds.
18. Get ambitious with cooking. Often we don’t have time to create culinary extravaganzas in our busy lives. If you are stuck at home for a period, maybe it’s a good time to channel your inner Gordon Ramsey!
19. Reframe your thoughts/perspective if you can. Think of this autumn/ winter as a great opportunity to get a project done. I have already started to think about what we can do around the house during this winter in terms of redecoration. There are certainly a couple of rooms that could do with a lick of paint.
20. Try and relax. When stress throws your nervous system out of balance, relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and mindfulness can bring you back into a state of equilibrium. Regular practice delivers the greatest benefits, so see if you can set aside even a little time every day. Focusing your attention completely on something specific for a few moments, can draw your mind away from overwhelming anxious thoughts and offer keener sense of perspective. If you are feeling anxious, download helpful apps like Calm or Headspace.
21. Use online selling sites such as eBay to make some extra cash. I have been promising myself that I would have a big clear out of coats, boots and other items I no longer need, and I’m pretty sure I can make a few ponds doing it!
22. Get reading. Autumn is a great time to get lost in a book ( or even better a series). I have just started re-reading all the Agatha Christie novels. If you don’t like reading, download Audible and have your favourite books read to you.
23. Remember that you are not alone in feeling like this, no matter what your age, location or gender! Taking extra care of yourself both mentally and physically will help. Stay connected with people, talk about your worries and try to stay on top of difficult feelings. Concern is absolutely normal, but if you are experiencing anxiety that is creating problems in your life, please do reach out for expert help.
24. Focus only on today. A lot of our collective worry is understandably around concerns for the next few months and all the bad things we anticipate may happen. These worries can leave us feeling powerless and hopeless. Instead, try to focus on the present moment, or certainly just the next hour or so. By being fully connected to “now”, it is possible to actually interrupt and disrupt those negative thoughts running through your mind.
25. Whatever you are struggling with at the moment, there are still many reasons to be positive as we head into this new season. Yes, being optimistic takes effort, but it can be done. Count all the many reasons you have to feel grateful, support someone who is coping less well than you and refuse to give in. Set yourself some goals for the next six months and smash them!
Autumn and winter have their positives as much as spring and summer. If nothing else, you no longer need to feel bad about wanting to stay in with a big mug of marshmallow topped hot chocolate, your favourite book and comfy slippers, rather than go to a picnic or barbecue which will be overrun by wasps!
Stay mindful, stay positive and remember that the changing seasons are a part of life. Spring and summer will be here again before you know it, and you never know, this year, if you set your mind to it, perhaps you might even enjoy autumn and winter.