It is only the 3rd September and I have already seen so many references on social media relating to cosy jumpers, scarves the size of a king sized duvet, Autumn, hot chocolate, candles and cosiness. Excitement of the changing seasons, pumpkin spiced lattes and yes, dare I mention it? The ‘C’ word!!

For some it is the return to normality where they find comfort- whether it be that back to school routine, or everyone back in the office getting down to work. Maybe it is because it feels more socially acceptable to be in your pyjamas and snuggled under a duvet in the early evening as the nights draw in?

Despite the lovely cosiness that Autumn brings, for some people it brings anxiety, a low mood, and a sadness that is unexplained and can’t be shaken. Here are some of the reasons why and some ways to try and combat those feelings.

1) Daylight hours are reduced. Seasonal Affective Disorder is very real. When some of us don’t get enough sunlight it can effect how well the brain produces melatonin (the hormone that makes us sleep) and serotonin (which affects our mood, appetite and sleep.) When disrupted, this can cause symptoms related to depression.

There are a number of ways to help reduce the impact of reduced daylight hours such as the use of a light box. They are relatively inexpensive and you can even purchase a desk version which can be used while you work. Just think in a workplace environment this could provide a relatively inexpensive reasonable adjustment to support someone with SAD. That said, just 15-30 minutes spent by the window daily can be enough to help alleviate some of the symptoms. Or getting outside during daylight hours as much as possible can make a difference.

Food also influences our mood and plays a really important part in maintaining a healthy and well functioning brain and body. Omega-3s can fight depression and anxiety and there are lots of studies that back this up. Eat thing such as mackerel, salmon, sardines and anchovies. And for those non fish lovers out there a cod liver oil supplement, walnuts, spinach and Brussels sprouts will also do the trick.

Reducing sugar intake from simple, refined foods such as pasta, bread, baked goods, fizzy drinks and sweets can help to reduce the effects of that sugar rush and subsequent crash. In fact the symptoms and feelings felt are similar to those associated with anxiety and depression. So if you already experience symptoms, the effects of sugar can make them much worse.

In addition foods such as eggs, poultry, milk, nuts, soy products, seeds and spinach all naturally boost serotonin production which helps with positive mood and a healthy, well functioning brain.

2) The holidays are over! And for some that means another 12 months of graft before the next big annual trip away with the family. That in itself can reduce motivation and cause low mood.

Booking your next holiday or break to look forward to is one way of overcoming this but not financially viable for everyone. On a more practical level getting some dates in the diary can help. Whether it be a family outing to look forward to at the end of the month, a night out with friends or booking something different like an escape game or tickets to a show. This gives you something to look forward to and work towards when the back to work blues well and truly kick in. And it doesn’t have to cost money- there are so many things that we can do for free whether that be walking, or a family cinema night at home.

3) ‘Autumn Anxiety.’ Autumn is full of so many new things, from a new school year, everyone back in the office after what feels like a lifetime of everyone being away on holiday, children starting new schools, teachers with a new class, new projects, new focus and into the final planning before the final quarter of the year. All of these things can make us feel ‘apprehensive’ and anxiety is a very normal emotion. We may not be able to pinpoint the feeling to something specific, but for some reason going into September we may experience heightened anxious feelings which could partly be because of the ‘newness’ and ‘unknown’ of what is to come.

The key here is all about recognising those signs early. And really taking time out to look after your mind and practise self care. Schedule time for your well being- that may be 15 minutes of meditation on an evening to take control of your mind to stop it wandering and worrying about the future. There are some brilliant apps such as Headspace which make practising mindfulness really easy. You can set a reminder at a time where you are most likely to be available; you can choose what you want to achieve whether that be help with stress, falling back to sleep if you wake in the night or if you’re feeling overwhelmed. It may be ensuring you get that time to go for a run or hit the gym. But I cannot reiterate enough how important it is that you carve out that time for you to promote positive mental well being. This really will keep your mind fit and healthy and put you in the best place to cope with the many things that life throws at us.

4) Finally, don’t underestimate the impact of finance on mental health. The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute found that in England over 1.5 million people are experiencing both problem debt and mental health problems. Finances is one of the leading causes of stress which can have a huge impact on our overall mental health and well being. At this time of year not only are people working out how to pay off their summer (even staying in the UK with the children at home is costly); now thoughts naturally turn to Christmas which can create anxious thoughts and feelings on how this will be funded too. The NHS have pages on their website dedicated to supporting in this area along with some helpful and practical links https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/coping-with-financial-worries/ and by googling ‘financial difficulties and mental health’ there really is a lot of support out there to tap into.

It is important that we focus on our mental health and well being all year round and when we are feeling great, don’t neglect it- maintenance of our mental health is vital to keep it in a good place. You wouldn’t workout and train physically and reach your goal and then expect to maintain that without continuing to work on it- your mental health is just the same!

If you would like any training support within your workplace to learn more about maintaining positive mental health; or support and guidance on what to do if things are not in a great place for yourself or others then please get in touch with us here at Flourish in Mind. Helping to create workplaces where all individuals can flourish by providing education and training on mental health. jennifer.rawlinson@flourishinmind.co.uk