How fall affects your mood, and how to cope

Fall can bring on more than beautiful colours, cooler temperatures and shorter days – the shift in weather can lead to a dip in mood and energy.

Routines take over and there’s less time for outdoor activities and down time. Warm, sunny summer days are replaced by stress-inducing traffic jams, mood-bashing deadlines and ferrying kids to endless activities. The mere thought of upcoming wintry weather puts a chill on autumn.

There just ain’t no sunshine when the sun is gone! Thankfully, for most people it won’t reach a diagnosable Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) level – a mood disorder related to the change in seasons – but there are definite changes that happen in the fall to impact our energy, mood, metabolism and sleep habits.

First off, not all things are bad in the fall, stresses Dr. Natasha Turner. “Our testosterone increases so, therefore, so does our sex drive, and fertility appears to be best in October to December. Our memory and our focus can also improve in the fall and winter.”

What does suffer is our serotonin levels, the happy hormone that is naturally produced more when we have warmer weather and more sun exposure. These naturally begin to decline and melatonin, the hormone that controls our sleep, increases, which can lead to sleeping more and a decreased mood, says Turner, a naturopathic doctor at drnatashaturner.com and author of The Hormone Boost.

And although we sleep more in October than other months, the quality and depth of sleep suffer, so you may end up feeling groggy during the day.

“This is because the shorter days equal less exposure to sunlight, so a simple solution is to use a sunlamp in the morning,” says Turner. Consider St. John’s Wort to help boost serotonin, and make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D.

Plan for your metabolism to drop too. “Unfortunately, our master of metabolism – thyroid hormone – naturally drops in the cold, darker days of autumn and winter. Since thyroid hormone controls the energy and metabolism of every cell in your body, a thyroid boost is essential to beat fall fatigue.”

Boost your metabolism with a good breakfast, including 30 grams of protein and forgoing starchy carbohydrates like toast, cereal or bagels. Go for two eggs with goat cheese and tomatoes; one natural chicken sausage with one egg; a fruit free smoothie including chocolate whey protein, hemp hearts, baby spinach, cinnamon and coconut milk.

Get set for your waistline to widen. You may find yourself more vulnerable to the call of comfort foods to help boost serotonin levels back to what feels normal, but since that increase in appetite generally coincides with less daylight to exercise, seasonal weight gain is common, says Turner.

To beat back pounds, don’t exercise longer. Instead increase the intensity of your workouts but keep the sessions less than 40 minutes, with interval training, cycling, sprinting, etc. “It’s perfect for fat loss and won’t tend to increase your hunger or your stress hormones.”

There’s more: Studies directly link falling temperatures and increased intensity of joint pain. Plus it can all be one big headache – a fall in barometer pressure, a sudden increase in humidity or drop in temperatures can trigger migraines.

Finally, get set for fall allergy symptoms to flourish. As the seasons change, ragweed plants spew billions of pollen grains until November or the first frost of the year. Hay fever can impact mood and activity so be sure to treat symptoms with medications. Nasal symptoms are typically treated with an over-the-counter non-drowsy oral antihistamine or a steroid nasal spray such as Flonase.

· Get outside. Studies show that just a few minutes of fresh air can lift your spirits and mood. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology revealed that people felt more positive in outdoor light so head out for a quick walk on your lunch hour.

· Find some fall-themed activities and make a move on pumpkin picking, corn mazes and fall hikes. Even when it’s cold and rainy, you’ll still get some exposure to UV rays, which can help boost your mood and regulate your body’s circadian rhythm.

· Peel away the blues: The smell of this citrus fruit is one of the most mood-enhancing around, according to a study published in Chemical Sciences. So grab yourself some Florida sunshine – orange you glad you know this!

· Hack into your happy chemicals by moving your body. Research by the British Journal of Sports Medicine reveals that a mere 20 minutes of physical activity can impact mood.

· Get rid of clutter. Visual chaos may seem harmless but the disarray, disorganization and mess is stressful and brings people down. Studies show that when people are in aesthetically pleasing, organized and uncluttered surroundings, they feel more relaxed and content.

· Focus on what’s going well. It’s impossible to be unhappy when you’re feeling grateful. Before you go to sleep every night, write down in a journal three things that you appreciated most about the day. You’ll fall asleep on a positive note and will be more likely to wake up feeling optimistic about the day ahead.

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