Worried about what the arrival of autumn could mean for your mental health and wellbeing? These simple tips will help you to stay on top of things as the days get shorter.
It may only be the end of September, but it well and truly feels like autumn. Long gone are the days when the warmth of the summer sun’s rays sent shivers up your spine – now, we’re having to contend with grey clouds and unexpected rain showers.
But while some people love watching the leaves fall and spending the dark evenings curled up on the sofa with some autumn TV, others find that the shorter days and miserable weather have a detrimental impact on their mental health and wellbeing.
Whether you struggle with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or find it hard to wake up when the mornings are dark, if you’re someone who dreads this time of year, chances are the last couple of weeks have left you feeling pretty out of sorts.
However, while it’s OK to feel rubbish and acknowledge how you’re feeling, there are steps you can take to ease the burden this time of year brings and help yourself feel better.
So, to find out more about what you can do to take care of your mental health and wellbeing this autumn and winter, Stylist spoke to BeingWell life coach Grace McMahon to get her expert insight. Here’s what she had to say.
1. Balance your diet
If you often find yourself feeling sluggish and flat during the colder months, the first step McMahon recommends is taking the time to make rich, nourishing foods.
“The winter months can make us crave fast food, treats and sweets as our bodies need more energy to keep warm while still doing everything we did in the warmer months: work, parenting, exercising,” she explains. “While a few sweeter delights aren’t going to harm us, make sure to balance this with nourishing food, too.”
To give yourself an extra boost, McMahon recommends adding healthy stews and soups to your diet – not only are they rich in vitamins and nutrients that will help your brain to function well and protect your ability to cope with daily life, but they’re also a great way to warm yourself up and take care of yourself when it’s cold and miserable outside.
2. Maintain your vitamin D
While most people should be able to make all the vitamin D they need from the sunlight between March and September, during the colder months you’ll need to take steps to ensure your vitamin D levels don’t slip.
This is important for a number of reasons. Not only does vitamin D play a vital role in keeping our bones, teeth and muscles healthy, but studies have shown that vitamin D also helps to regulate mood.
Indeed, as McMahon explains: “Try taking vitamin D supplements alongside a balanced diet in the winter months to make up for the lost sunshine. It won’t ‘fix’ anything, but it might give you a little more of a boost and a smile through chattering teeth.”
You can check out the NHS website for more information about taking a vitamin D supplement.
3. Get cosy and comfy
It may seem simple, but embracing the colder weather and taking steps to make yourself feel cosy and comfortable can make a big difference to your wellbeing.
“Feeling good in ourselves really helps to protect our mental health,” McMahon explains. “We’re more likely to feel better in ourselves if we’re comfortable, warm enough, cosy and settled.”
To help you get started, McMahon recommends adding a handful of ‘comfort’ items to your home and wardrobe. “You don’t have to spend a fortune, but adding some simple staples like putting thick blankets on the sofa can actually really help us to find comfort in winter – and in ourselves,” she says.
4. Don’t let the cold hold you back
You may feel less-than motivated to get outside when it’s windy and raining, but doing so can do you the world of good.
After all, there’s a reason why the Nordic concept of ‘friluftsliv’ or open air living is so popular in Scandinavian countries during the winter months – embracing the outdoors and staying active is important no matter what time of the year it is.
“Fresh air, albeit crispier and icier at this time of year, is still great for clearing the mind and getting oxygen into the lungs and brain,” McMahon says. “Try brisk walks through the park paired with a hot drink to stop your fingers falling off.”
5. Listen to what you need
While taking care of yourself is important all-year round, taking the time to listen to your body and mind – and giving them what they need – is even more crucial when you’re feeling rough.
“The gloominess of winter can be hard to manage for many of us, but you can make it your own – whether that’s by starting the Christmas movie marathon early or making an effort to maintain your all-year routine,” McMahon says.
“Try to embrace it rather than feel intimidated, and if a duvet day is required just to help keep you warm and sane, that’s OK too.”
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