This week has been characterised by grey skies, chilly evenings and rain here in Cornwall and these autumnal blues mean my social media networks have been populated by misery laden updates mourning the end of summer and the rapid onset of winter.
In reality we are barely at the beginning of autumn and there is still the potential for some sunshine before the clocks change and the nights really start to draw in. So this is probably a good time to take stock of our emotional and psychological wellbeing.
Psychologically, autumn is a time when people start to withdraw and become less sociable and more inward looking. In evolutionary terms this is an entirely understandable phenomenon; if we look at the agricultural model summer was a social time when the big jobs, like harvesting, were shared amongst large groups of people. Produce was taken to markets in the larger towns and farmers took the opportunity to catch up on gossip, meet friends and generally let their hair down. As autumn progressed the working days became shorter, crops were sparser and people didn’t linger in the fields but hurried home for warmth and safety. Livestock was brought inside as there was no grass to graze and travel along muddy, rutted lanes became impossible. There was little option to do anything other than retreat from the world.
Despite the fact that most of our lives are no longer governed by the availability of natural light or the agricultural calendar, we still have this innate tendency to retreat. This can have a profound effect on people and, left unchecked, this inward focus can lead to a depressed mood and a “can’t do” frame of mind. We are not talking about clinical depression here or even SADS, just the kind of low mood which affects us all from time to time and can have a negative effect on our motivation our social lives and our work.
However, a negative outcome is far from inevitable and there is much which can be done to counteract the effects of the autumnal blues.
At a personal level there are a number of things that you can do to keep the blues at bay:
- Spend as much time outside as you can; windy walks can be incredibly invigorating and you are still exposing yourself to natural daylight.
- Notice and appreciate the beauty in the changing landscape; autumn leaves, dramatic skies, reflections on wet pavements etc.
- Eat brightly coloured fruit and vegetables so that food looks appetising and cheerful as well as tasting good. Add a bit of spice – chilli is known to raise your mood.
- Get some exercise – you might not want to go for a run in the rain but why not go to the local pool for a swim?
- Be sociable; arrange to meet regularly with family and friends and take part in activities which use energy and make you laugh – bowling, a walk in the forest kicking up leaves or, if you really don’t want to go out, play active computer games like Wii sports.
- Enjoy the quiet time that dark evenings allow you; light a fire, read a book, watch a great film that makes you feel good.
- Create a mindset that says “autumn is a good time for me” and list all the reasons why.
- Be creative; use the evenings or wet weekends to make something – take up painting or sewing, carpentry or knitting. If you don’t know how – attend an evening class.
If you run a business which employs people then you have a vested interest in helping to raise mood and avoid a mass slide into the autumn blues. Think about the changing seasons as just one more element of change that you need to manage. Consider the following:
- The working environment: Maximise natural light; keep blinds up and consider the use of daylight bulbs if you don’t have many windows. Keep rooms warm but well ventilated – being cold or too hot and stuffy is not likely to lead to an improvement in mood. Introduce some bright colours by hanging pictures/posters, introducing plants etc.
- Working Hours: Just as farmers didn’t want to linger in the fields in the autumn, your employees don’t want to stay too late in the office; encourage people to manage their hours properly. Make sure people take regular breaks away from their desks – preferably outside.
- Increase social interaction: Hold regular team meetings, make them focussed and productive and use the opportunity to let people know how much you value them. Encourage lots of work-based interaction – set team objectives, organise collaborative projects (internally and with other businesses).
- Lead by example; be cheerful, smile at people and say hello every morning, be positive in your communication – you set the tone.
- Have fun; make your business an enjoyable place to work. If you don’t know how to do that ask your staff for their ideas.
- Engage with your community; this will help your employees to be more outward looking and to feel better about themselves and it will also increase your standing locally.
- Think about your customers; it’s autumn for them too. Engage with them, use your social media platforms and face to face encounters to raise their spirits and put a positive spin on the weather. You don’t have to sell wellies to embrace the rain.
If you take care of yourself now and maintain a positive outlook then you and your business will be in great shape when winter really kicks in.