What does autumn mean to you? For me it brings anticipation of nature and all its beautiful displays of colour. Then there are the warm cosy sweaters, sitting by the fire, hot comforting food and snuggly blankets. I could go on about the many positive things to look forward to in the weeks to come but then there are the less cheerful features of autumn. Such as the cold damp weather, dark nights and lack of sunshine and the prospect of winter colds and snively noses. The anticipation of a long dark winter is never appealing to me despite the many positive things it brings. For some, the prospect of another winter approaching can be almost too much to bear. Especially those who know that they struggle with their mental health at this time of year.
If we know that this time of year can bring down our mood, is this inevitable or can we do something about it? For me, they key to warding of the winter blues is self-care. I have learned what makes me feel good and what can bring my mood down. A hot chocolate with a good friend will always lift my spirits. Too many social activities will leave me feeling drained so I try to find the right balance.
The loss of light is the biggest thing that affects our mood at this time of year. The lack of light during autumn and winter can increase our levels of the hormone melatonin (which results in sleepiness) and reduces our levels of the hormone serotonin (which can then cause depression). Therefore it would make sense that increasing our exposure to sunlight could be beneficial to our mental wellbeing. Even venturing out into the fresh air on a damp dull day increases our exposure to natural light. Try going for a brisk walk in the middle of the day and notice what effect this has on your mood. If the day brings a blue sky and sunshine then even better. Some people may like to try a specialised lamp or light therapy as a way of increasing their exposure to light.
I like to plan ahead for winter by reintroducing hobbies or activities that seem to get pushed to one side during the summer months. My cross stitch and crochet get put down around April as I get busier socialising and so I enjoy picking them back up once the darker nights set in. I love to read and so the approaching winter is a time I look forward to weekend afternoons with a good book.
One area of self-care I can let myself down in during the winter months is my diet. The cold weather brings with it a craving for warm food, especially carbohydrates. I see no point in being harsh on myself in what is after all my body’s natural response. And so, I allow the carbohydrates but stock up on some more healthy snacks such as fruit and nuts, placing them where I can see them and placing the chocolate out of sight (but sadly not out of mind). If I feel I have overindulged one day I will try to do better the next day. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. I am aiming for some sort of balance but never for perfection.
Last winter brought about not one but two lockdowns not to mention a very strange Christmas. Like everyone else I am still facing the fallout from COVID and all the experiences and challenges of life. This winter will hopefully be a little less restrictive and so I intend to enjoy it and appreciate the simple things in life.
Friends, hot chocolate, winter walks, snuggly blankets and good books are just a few of the things I will enjoy. What about you? What winter pleasures await you? What activities could you plan to indulge in and enjoy?
The New Dawn Counselling centre is committed to providing support for individual adults, couples, children, young people and families. People can contact us to book an initial assessment appointment via our website or email. If the approaching winter is leaving you feeling anxious, sad and generally low, why not give us a try and see what opportunities await.