Autumn is definitely – and definitively – here. There’s no mistaking the change in seasons with the darker evenings and the rain pouring down the windows in recent days. Are you starting to feel a little less lighthearted without the sunshine? Maybe you’re finding it just that little bit harder to get up in the mornings – or that your motivation is a bit more difficult to come by. Well, if that’s so you’re not alone. September, for example, is officially one of the most challenging months of the year for all of us. Anxiety and depression can be triggered by the change in seasons and the colder, darker times can start to feel like a long haul.
Why is September such a struggle?
NHS research established that one in three adults aged 16-74 already suffers from a condition such as anxiety or depression. In the summer when the sun is shining and there is plenty of scope for spending time outside this can lessen. Which is why September often feels like a big shock, even to those who don’t already have mental health issues to deal with.
We tend to spend more time indoors, leading to less exposure to natural sunlight, less activity and sometimes more hours alone. SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), for example, is very common at this time of year. According to Dr Arun Thiyagarajan, Medical Director at Bupa Health Clinics, “The exact cause of SAD isn’t fully understood, but the main theory is that a lack of sunlight might affect a part of the brain called the hypothalamus working properly, which may affect the production of serotonin, the hormone that affects our mood, appetite and sleep. The lack of sunlight and lower serotonin levels can lead to feelings of depression.”
September 2019 – time for change?
I’ve just come back from a trip to the French Alps, which involved a lot of lovely food and views – and a lot of walking. And I’ve been speaking to friends recently who have spent the summer learning to surf or wake board, even trying horse riding for the first time. As a result, it occurred to me that this kind of commitment we make to physical activity outside during the summer months might offer one potential solution for combating anxiety and depression in the winter too.
- The NHS now ‘prescribes’ exercise for depression – NICE guidelines suggest about 3 sessions a week, lasting about 45 minutes to 1 hour, over 10 to 14 weeks.
- One review of studies investigating the effect of exercise on depression found that 90% reported antidepressant effects
- Being outside, especially in nature, decreases stress – one study found that “every green environment improved both self-esteem and mood”
Try something new this autumn
Exercise has a lot of positive benefits for high blood pressure, obesity and osteoporosis and can reduce the risk of premature mortality. But in the context of anxiety and depression it’s perhaps the comfort zone challenge – and getting outside – that are the most valuable elements. Trying something new can help to build confidence and make you more open to new challenges. So, this autumn, why not start a new type of outdoor exercise that is outside of your comfort zone and see how much better you feel as your confidence grows. I’d recommend:
- Surfing – the Wave Project carried out a study that found surfing has a positive impact on mental health and the Navy is even look into it now as a way to help manage PTSD.
- Wake boarding – Hampshire has some excellent wake boarding facilities, such as the South Coast Wake Park.
- Walking – we walk every day but a long ramble, for example through the New Forest, could lead you to new sights and achievements
- Tennis – this racquet sport isn’t just for the summer you can play all year round and there are different options, such as walking tennis, for different abilities
- Cycling – there are plenty of cycle routes in Hampshire and many places to organise bike hire such as Bespoke Biking.
- Skiing – it’s fantastic physical activity and stimulating for both body and mind – there are ski slopes in Guildford and Aldershot if you can’t get to the Alps
There’s no reason why we have to retreat and hibernate in winter – in fact we could all benefit from getting out and being more active this year.