When I was 22, I went on a long backpacking adventure to Australia after finishing uni. I went in September after a long, hot summer; and instead of landing in autumn, I landed in spring, which soon turned into another, long hot summer. But the end of that summer, instead of landing in the UK in a gentle autumn, it was spring and summer again! That autumn I had the biggest crash and for the first (and worse time) of my life I suffered from a bout of really bad depression. Sure there were other factors, no job, friends moved away etc, but looking back I think I had ‘jetlag’. Instead of my body clock being out of synch with day and night, it was out of synch with the seasons. With support and help, I eventually got on track – coincidentally this is also the time in my life I discovered yoga, which was a huge help. But it made me realised the importance of connecting to our seasonal ebbs and flows, and the impact they have on us.
As we move from summer into autumn this year, I’m getting tingles of something being off; not just with me, but with us all collectively. 2020 has been a crazy year for sure, but it’s also thrown the balance of our lives off, in ways that may not at first seem obvious. During spring – a time when we are usually emerging from the deep darkness of winter – we had the bulk of our strictest lockdown. It had been a particular wet and windy winter and spring came in a blaze of heatwaves and sunshine… and many of us were forced to go against our natural instincts to get outside and reacquaint ourselves with the sun, instead finding ourselves locked away. Daily government sanction walked were often tinged with anxiety as our natural instincts to socialise, chat and interact with one another was also prohibited.
Summer came, a time for many for carefree holidays, adventure and socialising. Festivals, fairs, fetes, concerts, even BBQs with ‘excessive’ people, have all been cancelled. Trips to the beach and park were met with public scorn and shame. Once again, our usual call to summer energy has been thwarted. Of course, we are all doing this out of care and concern for each other and ourselves, and doing what is best in this pandemic, but it is also important, I think, to honour the potential effects of this on our mental health, physical health and energy as we now transition into autumn.
So as we move into the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, with that in mind here are a few things to be mindful of and how you can manage them during this on-going pandemic:
On an energetic level you may be feeling a bit out of sorts. Usually we expend more energy in summer, with holidays, trips, longer days, socialising, outdoor activities; and if you are parents, running around after kids for six weeks (rather than 12). So you might still feel your summer energy hasn’t been quite burned up yet; you might feel a bit resentful that the nights are drawing in, when you haven’t had enough time out playing in the sun. Conversely, if you’ve been entertaining (and educating) kids at home for 12 weeks, you might feel extra fatigued than normal, or have anxiety about them leaving the nest again, rather than the usual ‘back to school’ relief.
What you can do: Firstly, realise that it’s normal to feel like this, as your yearly routine has been disrupted. Move your body as much as possible during daylight hours. Getting into nature really helps, but if that’s not possible dance around the kitchen, dance in your garden (if you have one). If you are missing socialising, then get those Zoom parties – which, yeah, I know we got bored of back in about April – back and do some summer show and tell. Honour the leaving of summer by reflecting on the bits you could enjoy. Spend some time with your family or friends (in person or online) listing all your best days and moments of this summer, how you did spend it, rather than how you didn’t.
2. Back to School feelings
For kids and adults alike, September can feel like the beginning of the year as the new academic year beings. Work can have a similar vibe, especially if you usually take time off for holidays during the summer; it’s a time for a fresh start and new pencil cases all round! But this year, school children might be coping with new routines of staggered classes, different school hours and excitement might be tinged with anxiety about feeling safe and being away from home (for children and parents!). Maybe you are now permanently working from home; or starting university with online classes – it’s probably not feeling like the usual ‘back to school September vibes’ we are used to and that might feel a bit sad or strange.
What you can do: If kids are going back to school, prepare them as much as possible with lots of reassurance and information as you can. Remind them of all the positives of going back to school – seeing their friends and teachers, playtime, or other positive things they associate with school. Talk through any specific fears they may have. At the end of each day ask them the best thing they did that day, the thing they enjoyed the most, or the thing they were most proud of, to get them in the habit of framing their days by their own achievements.
If you work from home, use this time to change up your workspace, reorganise yourself, maybe get your scheduling on track for autumn. Connect with colleagues and see how they are getting on and plan regular online socials. If you’ve got into the habit of slouching around in comfy clothes all summer, treat yourself to a new autumn wardrobe anyway, or any other signifier that will mark a change back to a new “normality”.
If you’re at college or uni and your classes are online, and socialising opportunities are limited; see what online and social media groups have been set up about your course and make sure to connect with your new college mates. If it’s possible maybe arrange small meet ups for walks or coffee in limited numbers. Most importantly, talk about how you are feeling if it all seems too much, or you feel isolated. See what support your college offers, if there are support groups, or contact old friends who might be in the same boat as you.
3. Keeping traditions
It might not feel like autumn this year, when things feel so different. Just as spring and summer felt weird and many landmarks were missed, you might feel completely out of sync with the seasons entirely – especially as the UK weather is so unpredictable, everything might be feeling relentless, boring, or you might feel completely stuck in a rut, one you probably built yourself out to cope out of necessity.
What you can do: Think about the things you love to do most in autumn and as best you can, stick to them! Crunchy leaves and autumn walks, those autumnal treats from coffee shops, getting cosy with a book, baking, crafting. You love Halloween? Celebrate Halloween! There may not be parties or trick or treating, but you can absolutely still carve a pumpkin and put Hocus Pocus on for the 18th time (maybe this is just me). Take a leaf out of how children notice seasonal changes and get absorbed in nature again. When was the last time you went hunting for prize conkers, or jumped in a pile of crunchy autumnal leaves wearing boots?
4. Self-care 101
Let’s be honest, when lockdown first started a lot of self-care went out of the window as we entered into survival mode. Unhealthy coping mechanisms were wryly celebrated and almost expected. Memes about binge eating, copious amounts of alcohol, staying in pyjamas all day and doom scrolling social media instead of being productive were par for the course. But sadly, these are genuine responses to collective trauma and stress and while we can reassure each other that they are normal; long term they are going to take their toll on our health. People who have suffered with addiction (or problematic drug/alcohol use), eating disorders (and disordered eating), anxiety, depression, PTSD and other mental health issues in the past have all been at risk of being ‘retriggered’, and the longer this goes on the more risk they are at of developing more serious issues.
What you can do: Take autumn as an opportunity to take stock, and see where your self-care can be improved. Self-care is not all about bubble baths and yoga retreats, it’s about making sure your basic needs are met in order to keep as physically, mentally and emotionally well as possible. Write a list of all your self-care needs. You can write this in columns, or a pyramid (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a good template for this, as a The Human Givens), starting at basic (such as sleep, nourishing food, company of other people, medical needs) and work from there. What you might find is that you’ve been trying to meet a basic need in an unhealthy way, if so see if you can change it so it is met in a more nourishing way. We tend to only get into destructive, unhealthy or damaging behaviours when we are trying to get a need met, so identifying the need can often be a good place to start.
However if you are struggling with addictions, anxiety, depression or other mental health issues and you feel you need support then do get some help. It’s super tough at the moment, but I have included some resources below. I am currently seeing clients over Zoom so if you think you could benefit from some solution-focused hypnotherapy to help you get back on track this autumn, then get in touch via my contact form.
Here’s to autumn, whatever 2020 does next. Wishing you all health and happiness. Emma x