Mood boosters: 20 ways to beat the autumn blues
1) Be a morning person
Lack of sunlight as the days become shorter and darker can trigger seasonal affective disorder (SAD), leaving you feeling depressed and tired.
According to neuroscientist Professor Russell Foster, a key way to ward off this condition is to get outside for 30 minutes between 6am and 10am when daylight is strongest.
“Even on an overcast day, light is 500 to 1000 times brighter outside than in your office or home,” he explains.
“Research shows exposure to early morning light helps reset our internal body clock and fight SAD.”
2) Sort out your sleep pattern
Waking up exhausted and craving more sleep is common in autumn.
Longer hours of darkness cause increased levels of melatonin – the sleep hormone – making you feel sleepy in the day, but restless at night.
We often make the problem worse by overriding our natural sleep/wake systems by drinking coffee to stay alert, and using alcohol to sedate us at night.
Instead, stick to a routine of going to bed and getting up at the same time.
And try a natural sleep remedy that won’t leave you drowsy in the morning, such as A.Vogal Dormeasan (£9.15 www.simplyhealthfood.co.uk)
3) Know your stuff and get seasonal food savvy
Shorter days and lack of sunshine reduces our body’s production of serotonin, the ‘happy hormone’.
This makes us crave serotonin-boosting carbs such as pasta, potatoes and rice, which can quickly pile on the pounds.
Resist the urge and tuck into these low-fat seasonal treats, which are rich in disease-fighting antioxidants:
Swede, sweet potato and pumpkins – these bright orange veg are all great sources of vitamin C, fibre and the antioxidant, betacarotene.
Apples and pears – apples contain heart-healthy flavonoids – some of the most potent antioxidants around – while pears are rich in soluble fibre, which helps boost digestion and lowers cholesterol.
Figs – a high-fibre treat, figs are also a good source of calcium.
4) Have a girly get-together
Countless studies show that having a good network of friends can ward off depression, but at this time of year it’s easy to curl up in front of the TV rather than see mates.
Make it your mission to go out at least once a week.
An evening watching a feel-good film or just having a good gossip over home-cooked food is a guaranteed way to make you feel better about life.
5) Set up a goal
With summer over and Christmas still so far away, it can be hard to feel motivated during autumn.
To combat this, psychologist Avy Joseph recommends starting by achieving something small such as finally reading that book you’ve fancied for ages (even if it’s Fifty Shades of Grey!).
After that it’s time to set a bigger goal, such as getting into yoga or learning a new language.
6) Fake daylight with a clever clock
Wake up with a dawn simulator that floods your bedroom with ‘daylight’.
Studies show these sunlight simulators can boost your internal body clock, helping you wake up ready to face the day. (from £49.95 at lumie.com).
7) Scoff one of the latest superfoods
With an impressive cocktail of vitamins and minerals that offer six times more vitamin C than oranges, six time more antioxidants than blueberries, twice as much calcium as milk and more iron than red meat – no wonder Baobab is being hailed as the latest health-boosting superfood!
Traditionally grown in East Africa, the fruit has been valued for thousands of years by local villagers.
It’s now available in the UK in powder form. Sprinkle Minvita Baobab Superfruit Powder (£14.69, Order in store @ The Natural Way) on to yoghurts and cereals to kick-start your day.
8) Rev up your sex life
Studies suggest we feel sexier in summer.
Sunlight raises levels of feel-good hormones serotonin and dopamine, and of sex-boosting testosterone, putting you in the mood for love.
Avoid an autumn libido crash by mixing up your routine.
Don’t wait until 11pm when you can barely keep your eyes open – schedule it for 8pm after the kids go to bed, or at lunchtime on the weekend.
“And if you always wait for your partner to instigate sex, you’re missing out,” adds sex expert Tracey Cox.
“Initiating for a change can kick-start the most sluggish libido, as you get a buzz from being in the power position.”
(Visit www.lovehoney.co.uk for Tracey’s range of sex boosters).
9) Choose happy meals
The body makes serotonin from a chemical called tryptophan, which occurs naturally in foods such as dairy products, fish, bananas, dried dates, soya, almonds and peanuts.
“Combining tryptophan-rich foods with wholegrain carbs – such as brown rice, wholemeal bread or oats – helps the body release insulin, which boosts the amount of tryptophan available for the brain to use,” explains nutritionist Dr Marilyn Glenville.
10) Try laughter therapy
Laughter is crucial to boosting your endorphins – those all-important, feel-good brain chemicals.
Record your favourite sitcoms to watch on a regular basis, book tickets for stand-up or invite friends for comedy-themed DVD evenings.
11) Have an autumn detox
After all that summer drinking, give your liver a break this autumn and you should find you feel happier.
Booze interferes with your levels of tryptophan, the amino acid required for mood-lifting serotonin to be produced.
So stick to juices and soft drinks for a week and see if it makes a difference to how you feel.
12) Find happiness – naturally
The latest buzz in natural mood boosters, 5-HTP is a substance the body converts into the ‘happy hormone’ serotonin – making it perfect for warding off the autumn blues.
“Trials have shown that 5-HTP supplements have a positive effect on low mood and may work faster than antidepressants for some,” says Dr Sarah Brewer.
Try Natures Aid 5HTP Complex (£9.99 at www.simplyhealthfood.co.uk).
13) Work it out
Colder weather and darker nights can stop you even venturing out.
“Many people end up ditching the gym once summer’s over,” says celebrity trainer Elia Siaperas (www.labspa.co.uk), “but that’s exactly the time you need to dig deep and find some extra motivation, as research shows exercise can boost your mood.”
14) Take some vitamin D
Sunlight is the body’s main source of vitamin D, and when levels are depleted in the darker months, some experts think it can increase the risk of SAD.
One US study found that taking vitamin D supplements led to significant improvements in SAD symptoms. Try Quest Vitamin D (£6.89 for 180 Tablets).
15) Give meditation a go
A recent US study found meditation was as good as antidepressants in preventing depression flare-ups.
A simple method is to light a candle and gaze at the flickering flame for 10 minutes, allowing your mind to just drift and empty itself of any thoughts.
16) Book a break
Many of us experience what psychologists at the University of Granada in Spain have dubbed ‘post-holiday syndrome’ – feeling tired, fed-up and demotivated after our summer break.
But it’s not just the trip itself that puts a smile on your face, it turns out the planning is just as important, with psychologists proving that just looking forward to your holiday is enough to lift your mood.
So start researching next year’s trip or booking that weekend away – now!
17) Up your iron
Exhausted, pale and finding it tough to concentrate? You could be suffering from a lack of iron – the world’s most common nutritional deficiency.
Research from the Department of Health suggests that as few as one in 10 of us have an adequate iron intake and, even if you’re not anaemic, you could still be running low.
Ideally, women need two servings of iron-rich food every day – the best sources being red meat, fish, eggs, bread, fortified breakfast cereals, pulses, green leafy vegetables and dried fruit.
18) Let nature do the work
Enjoying the great outdoors can boost your mood and self-esteem, according to one study by the University of Essex.
The researchers found that a walk surrounded by nature lifted spirits, while a walk in a city increased depression.
So get out and make the most of the gorgeous autumn colours by visiting your local park or forest.
Find details of what’s near you by clicking on the Woodland Trust website, www.visitwoods.org.uk
19) Give lethargy the needle
Acupuncture can release endorphins in the body to help fight seasonal mood dips.
“The needles act like switches in the body’s circuits, freeing up stagnant energy and getting it flowing,” explains acupuncturist, Lisa Sherman.
“This improves sleep quality as well as boosting general wellbeing.”
To find a practitioner in your area, visit www.acupuncture.org.uk or see our directory for local practitioners.
20) Exercise first thing
Getting up just 30 minutes earlier each morning makes it easier to fit exercise into a busy schedule.
An early workout can also boost your energy levels for the rest of the day and give you an endorphin high for up to seven hours after exercising.