Whether you’re in the US or Europe, and whether you’re looking out of an office window in London, Seattle, Paris or New York, you’re going to be watching the leaves turn, and the cold weather start to roll on in. Autumn is coming, and with it, the shorter days, blustery weather and the lead up to winter. Of course there are many wonderful things about this season - Halloween, Thanksgiving, crisp foggy mornings and apples fresh off the tree. There are also the not so wonderful things, the dark mornings, the change of the clocks, and the need to haul yourself out of bed against all the odds, get a raincoat on and get out there.
If you’re struggling with the transition, read on.
Some people, coming into the autumn and winter months, suffer a genuine physical condition called seasonal affected disorder (SAD), which can be caused by changes in the season. SAD affects many people - up to 2 million in the UK alone, and can have symptoms such as low mood and a general loss of interest in everyday life. Whilst the causes of SAD are not entirely clear, it is thought that they are linked to the changes in the number of daylight hours, which can interrupt the normal body clock and block the production of certain hormones. Whilst people with serious concerns about their health should see a doctor, there are also certain ways we can help ourselves should we suspect a mild case of the ’winter blues’.
The British NHS advise getting as much time as possible outdoors - think about getting off the bus a stop early or walking to a stop further away from work, or going out for a stroll on your lunch or coffee break. Any time in sunlight will help. Make your desk and living space as light and airy as possible to benefit from the daylight that there are in the winter months, and to minimise the impact of the longer nights.
It is also advisable to keep as active as possible during the longer months, both to maintain a generally healthy lifestyle, and also to equip you to get through the winter. If at all possible, get outdoors to exercise - go for a jog with a colleague in your lunchtime for example, and benefit from the shot of vitamin D, the comradeship and the endorphins all at once. Talk to friends and colleagues about how you’re feeling so they can support you through the transition months to winter, and to help you feel less alone. Avoiding stressful situations for a period may also help you to get through the autumn period.
A further self-help method is to ensure you keep a healthy diet. Lean proteins such as fish and chicken, are essential to help you beat fatigue. Oily fish like salmon contribute omega 3 fatty acids which have been found to improve the mood. Berries can also help manage the release of cortisol, which can make it difficult to think clearly in stressful situations - as though you need an excuse for a nice berry smoothie on a sodden autumn morning. Vitamin D is the final essential for making your autumn easier - look for eggs, milk, and if necessary supplements to provide the vitamins you might be lacking.
When to seek help
If you have tried the above and are still concerned about your health, then you should speak to a medical professional about your feelings. SAD is treated as other cases of depression, with medical intervention, and talking therapies, as well as the use of light therapy which can help in this particular case, by replacing some of the sunlight missing in the winter months.
In most cases, by the time the clocks change, our minds will have started to move on towards the festive season, the first snowfalls, the prospect of Christmas parties and bank holidays. The descent into autumn is tumultuous but the run through to Christmas and the New Year can be great fun, and well worth the ride. If you’re not feeling like this by the start of November it might be worth talking through your feelings through with your GP - otherwise, buckle up and enjoy the autumn/winter roller coaster.