The weather is changing – why the cosiest season is good for your mind
The schools are back, autumn is around the corner and the mornings and evenings are getting noticeably darker - could cooler days, crisp leaves on the ground and a night in with a mug of tea improve our wellbeing? By Imy Brighty-Potts
SUMMER is seen by many as a time for joy, warmth and adventure, with more of us getting out of the house, seeing friends and family and having some time off work. But, as the weather turns, autumn cosiness could be the mental wellness boost we all need right now.
So why do we love cosy days, crunchy leaves, pumpkin-flavoured everything, and a good evening boxset so much?
NUTRITIOUS AND COMFORTING MEALS
What we eat will affect our mood and while summer might have seen you grabbing quick bites or throwing together a cold salad or sandwich, you may find you have more time in autumn to cook some nourishing meals.
"Even the type of food we eat in autumn is a full-bodied and mature alternative to the young and fresh salads typically consumed in warmer months. Nutritious vegetables can be made into delicious and hearty soups or casseroles, which can be enjoyed as a way to de-stress with family and friends," says Dr Daniela Beivide from Holly Health, who has a PhD in psychological medicine.
According to Stefan Chmelik, founder of biotech company Sensate, who has extensive experience working within the mental wellbeing sphere: "Humans mostly register two seasons, autumn and spring. Winter and summer are really the transition between these two times, known as the equinox."
Which means that, for us "autumn is a powerful time of change, a time when nature returns to the earth to recuperate, to repair, to be ready anew in the spring".
He says it's best if we aim to live in harmony with the seasons. "Leading a 'summer life' in autumn or winter is like fighting against the energy of the season. Notice that it's getting darker earlier and therefore go to bed earlier and sleep more as it is appropriate to sleep longer during the darker months when the sun is less strong."
And there are new sights to enjoy in autumn. "As the light gets lower in the sky, it's the time of golden light through trees and leaves that are turning brown, of long shadows and morning mist; a time of great beauty," Chmelik says.
BACK TO SCHOOL NOSTALGIA
According to Dr Elle Boag, social psychologist at Birmingham City University, our back-to-school vibes can kick in in the autumn.
"People love autumn because it is a fresh start, associate it with starting school and brings excitement, that brings a feeling of nostalgia," she says.
Similar to the spring cleaning affect, this fresh start feel can bring motivation and excitement to colder climes.
Summer heat isn't for everyone and it can be unbearable at times, particularly if you are trying to work, exercise or get out and about.
Boag says: "[It's been] too hot to concentrate or work this year, this cooling down period is now a time to put our slippers on and get cosy."
This break from the heat may bring sweet relief to us - and our gardens.
"When the seasons change and we get colder we can release more serotonin or less, it will affect people differently but the majority of us like this change. We can see it as an opportunity for change and growth [and] that is really good for your mental wellbeing and psychological health," she adds.
"We may feel more comfortable covered up than exposed as we may be in summer, particularly if we struggle with body confidence."
PREPARATION FOR WINTER
Autumn brings the excitement of planning for winter, and all the holidays and joy that can bring.
"We go to work in the dark and home in the dark and your mood may get lower, so you can use this time to make plans for how you will cope and feel good," says Boag.
By using this time of beauty, slowing down and reflection to prepare, we can ensure we are protecting our wellbeing when the cold does get a bit much.
"It's a great habit to allocate time during the change of each season for reflection on the past three months, and to set out your thoughts and intentions for how you would like the next three months to be," says Chmelik.
"Put this in your diary - maybe just an hour to pause and reflect, or you can commit to spending longer in nature. Or you can even stay at home, listen to forest sounds and practise this simple reflection. It's OK to be inside and to cocoon and snuggle to warm and restore."