This piece is not intended as medical advice, purely as general tips and signposting for general wellbeing. If you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or are concerned about any other mental health condition, you should consult a medical professional.
Autumn brings crunchy leaves, cooler weather and is the perfect excuse to rediscover your cosiest clothes. While many people look forward to the season, it's quite common to find the decrease in sunshine rather gloomy. Less daylight makes it feel like there's less time in your day and can increase the urge to snuggle up and hibernate. Different things work for different people, but take a look at our tips for dealing with the potential drain of shorter days in autumn and winter.
Bright light improves concentration, makes you feel more awake and keeps your circadian rhythm and body clock on the right balance. That's why staring at your phone for too long in the evening can keep you from sleeping.
If you are working outside of your home, your commutes in the dark can often be the only time you spend outdoors. Getting out of your workplace during your lunch hour, either for a quick walk or even just to pick up some coffee, reminds you that daylight exists and refreshes you for the afternoon. If you work from home, it's even more important, as it can be harder to leave the house once the evening rolls in.
Open the curtains or blinds as far as they will go and move your chair closer to the window if you can. Clever décor touches can also help brighten a room, such as furniture in lighter colours or mirrors, which can reflect and amplify the light.
The temperature (or 'shade') of a lightbulb is measured in Kelvin. The 'warm white' bulbs found in most living rooms are around 2500K. A daylight bulb of about 5000K-6000K will really help to banish the shadows. Consider a lamp or light box if you find harsh overhead lighting too much in the evenings. This is especially beneficial for people who spend a lot of time in north-facing rooms.
Until the festive season begins, we often see less of our friends and family in the colder months as people are less likely to go outside and prone to stay warm indoors. Turn this around by scheduling in a coffee catch up with a friend or popping round in the evening after work. 6pm in November seems a lot later than 6pm in July but maintaining a summer mindset can help keep your thoughts buoyant.
Scheduling in a recurring social date is the easiest way to keep your calendar busy and your spirits up!
You may find it harder to complete daily chores and life admin when the darker season begins. The best way to overcome this is to plan ahead. Prepare a batch of lunchtime meals at the weekend if you struggle to put together packed lunches every evening after making dinner. Used to be a morning person but find waking in the dark discouraging? Set everything out for the next day the night before, so you've got less to do when you first wake up.
The dreaded 'e' word (exercise - that crops up in every guide for stress-relief) is making an appearance again. But getting in some exercise doesn't have to mean lycra, running trainers and pounding the pavement in freezing weather. It can do, but one size never fits all. Move your body as often as you remember. Try a round of stretches when you get out of bed in the morning, a ten-minute YouTube yoga video or an impromptu dance party with your little ones or pet! It's the small, life-affirming differences we make that help keep our heads clear and the clouds away.
Small additions to your diet and lifestyle can help you feel more energised at this time of year.
Try a weighted blanket on the sofa or at bedtime to help you sleep more deeply. Used by occupational therapists to relieve stress, weighted blankets have quilted pockets that are filled with glass or plastic beads. The weight aims to mimic 'deep touch pressure', like a firm hug, helping you to feel cosy and calm.
Winter can also see us giving in to our cravings for heavy comfort foods. Adding extra proteins and fibres to meals, such as nuts and chia seeds to your porridge, or spinach to your evening meal can help you get the vitamins you need.
Some people suffer from SAD; a type of depression experienced during certain seasons, or times of the year. Going beyond what's commonly termed the 'winter blues', there are five key signs of SAD,
However, these signals are quite generic and given the fluctuations of Covid-restrictions, it may be hard to know what's just feeling a bit low and what's SAD. If you have concerns that you or a loved one is suffering from SAD or any other mental health issue, it's important to seek professional medical advice.