It’s easy to feel gloomy at this time of year – the shorter days and grey weather are well known to have an impact on mood and energy levels. And with Covid still a threat, and further lockdown restrictions likely, this autumn may be tougher than most. While we don’t know for sure what triggers seasonal affective disorder (SAD), it’s thought that reduced exposure to sunlight and a disrupted body clock are possible causes. Here, our experts explain how simple lifestyle changes can make a big difference…
Rethink your thoughts
Reframing how you think about autumn can help. “If you have a thought such as, ‘I hate it when the nights draw in and it gets very dark’, this can lead to feelings of dread,” says Honey Langcaster-James, behavioural psychologist. Studies show that less light exposure, as well as reduced activity, will make you feel worse. Catch those thoughts and reframe them to say something like, ‘Autumn is around the corner, therefore I need to make a conscious effort to go outside to exercise each day’. Doing this will make your thoughts more motivating and uplifting, which leads to beneficial behaviour.”
Get your sunshine vitamin
Spending days in the park and evenings in the garden during the summer ensures we get enough essential vitamin D, but as the nights draw in, this can be harder. “Poor mood during the autumn and winter months has been linked to low vitamin D levels,” says David Weiner, trainer at Freeletics.
Fat soluble vitamin D is synthesised in the skin after exposure to UV rays. But between October and April in the UK, we cannot get adequate amounts of vitamin D from the sun and research has shown that many people in the UK are deficient. Try to get outside as much as possible, and consider taking a vitamin D supplement.
Be mindful in nature
Autumn is a great time to wrap up and take a walk. “Take in all the sights, sounds and smells,” says Sarah Romotsky, from mindfulness meditation app Headspace. “Note the different colours of the plants and trees, listen out for sounds of birds, and how it feels as the soles of your shoes touch the gravel or grass. Make a point of noticing the warmth from the sun on your skin or the wind brushing your face. Simply notice, acknowledge and let go.”
Embrace the urban
Not all of us are lucky enough to live near open spaces, but it’s just as easy to take a mindful walk in an urban area. “If you’re walking in the city, it can be easy to feel distracted by the bustle of a busy environment. Instead, allow yourself to feel more connected to your body and the world around you. Listen to the sounds of the cars and observe the high-rise buildings and people walking by. Check how your body feels. Notice how it feels as it moves – how your arms hang or swing by your side, or how your weight shifts steadily from right to left, “says Sarah.
Eat to beat the blues
As the autumn weather sets in, we often turn to hearty meals such as pies and stews. But while these can be comforting, it’s important to eat foods that will keep us feeling good in the long run too. “Waking up to darker mornings can result in craving carbohydrates and stodgy foods. However, packing your diet with protein is far more beneficial to ensure your energy levels and mood are boosted,” says David Weiner. Amino acids, the building blocks of protein, help increase feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain, so opt for protein-rich foods such as turkey, beef, beans, cottage cheese, nuts and seeds.”
Write it down
Putting away your phone or tablet and picking up a pen and paper can do wonders for your mood. “Keeping a journal of your thoughts and daily goals will help organise your mind in a clear way and benefit your overall mental health. It will also encourage you to get creative with how you express yourself. Use different coloured pens to write, or send a friend or family member an old-fashioned letter as a reminder that you’re thinking of them,” explains Andrew Wilson, wellbeing expert from Executive Pens Direct.
Grow your own
The leaves on the trees may be turning brown, but it’s the perfect time to get into the garden or plant in pots on a windowsill. “Planting now for the spring is a great reminder that the colder months will end, and green shoots will appear again. Now is the perfect time to plant spring bulbs. Daffodils are great for creating a cheery splash of colour. And crocuses work well for a sunny spot at the front of a border or in small pots on a table top,” says Marcus Eyles, horticulture director at Dobbies.