We asked local therapist Nancy Lucas how to embrace the change of seasons (please pass the apple crisp!). Here’s what she had to say…
The days are getting shorter and there is a definite crispness to the air here on our beloved shoreline. Although our seaside locale means we don’t get those early frosts like our inland friends, there is still no denying that the days of over-scheduled carpe diem summer are past. We can mourn for what is over, or maybe we can take some cues from nature and use this natural slow down in pace to reset and practice some self care. And I am not just talking about drinking or eating something flavored with pumpkin. New research shows that it’s not only the hibernators and the trees that experience physical effects during this seasonal change, but we humans do too! These changes can include shifts in our mood, our activity levels, and even our waistlines. Honoring these elemental cycles of life can lead to a more authentic connection with ourselves.
OUR PRACTICAL FOCUS INCREASES
Turns out it’s not just the woodland creatures like squirrels and chipmunks that become more focused on growing their reserve of nuts when fall arrives. A Harvard study found that there is a marked increase in productivity for most students in late October and November compared to the rest of the school year. This phenomenon has been backed up by additional research and multiple surveys of workers who report that autumn is the season where they feel most energized and productive at work. Think of it as sort of the opposite of Spring Fever! So as colder weather and darker days ensue, embrace the natural increase in your activity level and shift to the more practical things. Try to finally solve that nagging problem at the office or tackle that junk drawer. Your focus is shifting to your nest-embrace it!
BUILDING UP A HIBERNATION RESERVE
Wondering whether those few pounds gained every fall is all the summer feasting catching up with you? Nope! There are a variety of complex causes that account for that autumn weight gain that researchers are just starting to uncover. For one, studies show that the drop in our Serotonin caused by the diminishing daylight can make us naturally crave more comfort foods of the high carb variety to try to compensate for that dip. But wait there’s more! New research out of the University of Exeter shows that as the weather cools, our appetites naturally increase in an attempt to stave off winter starvation. Even though our actual chances of starving in our modern world is zero, we still have this prehistoric survival mechanism. How do we fight all this? I say we don’t. We need to remind ourselves that we should not judge the quality of our lives by a few upticks on the scale or the snugger fit of our Lululemons. I refuse to beat myself up for wanting that macaroni and cheese, after all my Serotonin is dipping and my Cro-Magnon ancestors would rather I not starve. Pass the apple crisp please.
GOING MORE INWARD
Another common part of being a New Englander is to experience a dip in your mood as autumn arrives. Many of us know that Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is real. Scientists suspect that changes in multiple neurotransmitters and hormones due to the shorter days can cause us to be more moody. Exercising outside can help, but what if instead of trying to fight this natural cycle we embraced it? We can use the darker evenings and shorter days to shift our focus and take the time to pay more attention to our inner world. Let me remind you that although we try mightily, we truly have no control over any one but ourselves. One of the things that strikes me in my practice is how often, after discussing all of the exciting adventures my clients go on, when I ask the question “what is it that you do that gives you the most contentment?” I hear “Contentment? Hmmm…I really don’t know…” We lose a vital part of the experience of living when we become so outwardly focussed that we end up filling our days with what amounts to checked boxes. Now those boxes may be fabulous experiences, but if we don’t put aside the time to process them we run the risk of losing connection with our inside. Our world is filled with things competing for our attention, so while nature is turning from vibrant green to the warmer colors of a crackling wood fire, we can honor the ancient cycles instead of working against them, and take the time to sit in a comfy chair and stare out of a window and watch the birds fly by or the leaves fall, sip that full-fat pumpkin latte, and get lost in a revelry of thought that just may give us the true keys to our happiness.
Nancy C. Lucas is a licensed therapist specializing in counseling for individuals and couples. She has her own practice located in Essex, CT. Visit nancyclucas.com for more information.