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Autumn blues

How to beat the end-of-summer blues

Let's face it, there's nothing quite like a bright, sunny day to lift the spirits. So it's no wonder that when the summer begins to draw to an end some of us feel a little bit low.

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Remember that nothing is inevitable

If you've previously experienced low mood at this time of year, it's natural to worry that you might feel the same way again. However, whilst it's important to be mindful of the past, having experienced depression or low-mood at this time of year previously doesn't necessarily mean that winter will continue to bring on the same symptoms.

"When we are attuned to a certain way of thinking our body and our mind start to predict it," explains psychologist Alex Carling. "But it's possible to retrain the internal system - nothing is inevitable."

Acknowledge that your feelings are normal

As humans, we have more natural energy when exposed to higher levels of daylight; and it is widely believed that the shorter days of autumn and winter can change the level of chemicals in the body. It is this chemical change that can lead to SAD symptoms in some people.

"Whilst the exact cause of seasonal depression is not known, doctors believe that the lower levels of sunlight during the winter months can cause some people to produce less serotonin and more melatonin. Lack of serotonin in the brain can cause or exacerbate the symptoms of depression. And excess melatonin - a chemical that we produce during darker hours to encourage sleep - can cause lethargy," explains GP Dr Shamsul Kelman of Push Doctor.

Even for those of us who don’t develop depression at this time of year, it's natural to feel a little more sluggish and lethargic as the daylight wanes. Although not a cure in itself, remembering that this is a natural process can both reassure and make us feel a little better.

"For most people it is natural and normal that you would have less energy with less daylight; it's a good idea to accept this as a natural process rather than fight it," explains Sally Heady, cognitive hypnotherapist.

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Be realistic

These days, it can sometimes feel as if everyone else is constantly having the time of their lives. With friends posting happy photos on Facebook, and influencers on Instagram sharing glamorous snaps, it can seem as if we're the only ones who don't feel on top of the world. So it's important to remember that, whilst it's great to be positive, nobody feels happy all of the time.

"When we watch TV or go on social media, we are given the impression that we ought to feel confident and happy at all times. But I don't think this is helpful. Feeling nervous or unsure sometimes is a normal part of our brain's survival system. We shouldn't beat ourselves up if we don't feel 100% confident," explains Heady.

Give yourself some TLC

As adults, we're constantly rushing from task to task, often forgetting to look after ourselves properly. But it's important to take a little 'me time' - however short - to help us to feel more positive. If you're someone who feels a bit blue at this time of year then it's even more important to make the effort.

"We often put ourselves too far down our priority list; taking time for yourself and putting yourself first can really boost your mood," says Heady. "Taking some time for yourself to do something you enjoy can work wonders."

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Keep up the momentum

If you've started a new fitness regime, or taken up a new sport over the summer, a bit of bad weather or a few dark evenings shouldn't stop you keeping up the good work. Exercise is great for boosting both our mood and energy, so it's all the more important to keep it up at this time of year.

"It's natural for our energy to slump when the days get shorter," explains online fitness trainer Julia Buckley. "But if you’ve got into a good routine which included outdoor exercise and can't face the cold or rain, simply take it indoors. There are lots of workout ideas online, or you could join a local class. Exercise is a great mood booster and the perfect antidote for the winter blues as it warms our bodies and puts us in a better state of mind - not to mention the health benefits!"

Eat well

The change in seasons often signals a change in diet - salads may be ditched for warmer, heartier meals. But to keep yourself strong, it's important to eat right during the winter.

"At this time of year, it's easy to get low on the sunshine nutrient vitamin D," explains dietician Bahee Van de Bor. "Lack of B vitamins, folate, iron and selenium in your diet can also affect your mood, but eating the right foods can help."

"Try to eat beans and pulses throughout the week, paired with whole grains such as basmati rice, oats, wholemeal bread and pasta. To keep on top of vitamin D, don't forget to take your daily vitamin D supplement over winter. A weekly portion of oily fish will boost your omega 3s naturally, which is another mood-enhancing food."

Write in your diary

If you do find yourself feeling low, it may be a good idea to start a reflective diary. This can help you to recognise the impermanence of your feelings and highlight moments of joy.

"Using a reflection diary, either yourself or with your child, can help you to recognise all the positives you've had in your day. Perhaps when you do something kind, or someone else does," explains Carling.

"Those positive emotions can counterbalance stress or feelings of depression. It helps to retrain the internal system so that we can almost park certain feelings and make a conscious effort to focus on something else."

Get a diagnosis

Feeling a little blue is normal, but if you start to experience depressive symptoms or feel constantly unhappy, it's important to speak to your GP to see whether you need additional support.

"If you suspect you might be suffering from SAD, consult your GP," advises Heady. "They will be able to advise you on lifestyle changes or appropriate treatment."

As well as talking therapies and medication, many sufferers of SAD find light-boxes to be extremely helpful.

"Talk to your GP about the benefits of light-boxes - which encourage the body to release chemicals it needs in order to feel more alert and energised," advises Heady.

Enjoy your 'mini-hibernation'

Rather than constantly fighting the natural energy slump entirely, taking a bit of a break over the winter months and embracing this time of year might help you to feel more positive.

"Summer is an active busy season; people are on holiday, juggling commitments, and tend to be more busy and active," says Heady.

"Winter can be a real opportunity to take stock and have your own mini-hibernation. Then when spring arrives, you feel that natural lift in energy, flowers are budding and it tends to be a more optimistic time of year. You can make the most of that renewed sense of energy."

Article history

The information on this page is peer reviewed by qualified clinicians.

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