What pops into your mind when you think of autumn? Think about it for a moment... A warm mug of cocoa in front of an open fire? The leaves on the trees turning shades of orange and brown with the smell of bonfires lingering in the air? Or seemingly endless months of darkness and feeling lethargic? What fresh hell is this!
For some people thoughts of autumn and winter can trigger anxious thoughts relating to the dark nights and mornings meaning it can be an incredibly difficult time of year. With daylight hours shortening and the clocks going back an hour, the long periods of darkness can reduce motivation, give a sense of claustrophobia and make travelling to and from work in the dark for 9-5 shifts rather disorientating.
It is more serious, however, for people who have been diagnosed with SAD (seasonal affective disorder), a mood disorder that has been recognised as such since the 80s. Symptoms of SAD include increased appetite, weight, and hours slept, anxiety, low mood and decreased activity. SAD has a biological cause and according to the ‘circadian hypothesis’ the hormone melatonin is central to the condition.
Have you ever felt like you wanted to hibernate through winter? Me too. Night time causes our bodies to produce melatonin which increases sleepiness and as the seasons shift from summer to winter the timing of this process moves out of sync with our sleeping pattern and body clock. Unfortunately we cannot slow down and hibernate through the winter months like our prickly hedgehog friends do as we still have some form of responsibilities such as work, families, etc. So it’s no surprise that a lot of people struggle with energy levels during these months.
The good news is that there are things that we can do to boost our mood and look after our wellbeing as the nights draw in. Here are six tips that will do just that.
Keep to your normal routine
Try not to give into the temptation of cancelling your hobbies or your regular routine just because it’s cold and dark outside. Keeping to your normal routine will help you feel better. Or you could even try a new activity or hobby.
A workout can do wonders for your wellbeing by boosting your endorphins so whether it’s at the gym or outdoors, there are many benefits to working out. Get the best of both worlds by combining outdoor exercise with indoor exercise, for example, go walking outdoors and get that fresh air and mix it up with weight training sessions indoors.
Relaxation and Meditation
Do something that helps you relax whether it’s reading a book, taking a bath or listening to music. You could even try some meditation. Katy Perry, Gwyneth Paltrow, Hugh Jackman and Clint Eastwood all practice it. Meditation can be done anywhere that you are comfortable. There are lots of guided meditation videos on YouTube that you can follow and they are free.
Try and eat proper meals which contain good sources of protein and fibre and will help you feel good as opposed to sugary treats that can make you feel sluggish (after the temporary energy boost) and can also lower your mood.
Invest in a SAD light or a wake-up light alarm clock – a SAD light can help uplift your mood and restore your energy with 10,000 LUX of light. Put it on as soon as you wake up in the morning to recreate daylight and reap the benefits. There are also clocks available that can help you gradually fall asleep or wake up by recreating sunlight and even clocks that double up as an aromatherapy diffuser so you can diffuse a relaxing essential oil at night time to help you sleep or an energy boosting essential oil in the morning to energise you.
Let the sunlight in
As soon as you wake up open all blinds and curtains and let as much natural light in to help your body wake up.
Trying the above tips should help you feel good and able to enjoy the positives and the beauty of the autumn and winter months. I write this article after having a really tough autumn and winter last year with lots of periods of low moods and I particularly struggled with the dark mornings and nights. Autumn quickly went from my first favourite season to my fourth favourite! But with using the above tips to boost my mood and wellbeing I managed to turn things around and I am now looking forward to autumn and winter this year.
Sara Dewhurst is a Wellness Psychologist, Wellness Expert, Fitness Enthusiast, Healthy Lifestyle Coach and the Owner of The Well Nest – launching 23rd September 2018
 Bennett, P. (2015). Clinical Psychology: Psychopathology through the Lifespan. OUP.
 Lewy AJ, Bauer VK, Cutler NL, et al. (1998). Morning vs Evening Light Treatment of Patients With Winter Depression. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 55(10) 890–896.