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How to mentally prepare for September and stave off the post-summer blues

by Sarah Graham
Monday 24 August 2015
900 4291

It hardly seems like five minutes since those first days of summer sunshine but now, as the days slowly begin to get shorter and colder, it's time for many to think about returning to reality - whether that's work, school or university. Autumn can be a difficult period of transition between summer and winter, but it needn't get you down. We asked RSCPP therapists for their advice on how best to mentally prepare yourself for September.

Embrace change

"As August moves towards September, many of us feel reluctant – psychologically unprepared for summer's departure, with its inevitable passage towards autumn," says Registered Psychotherapist Jaimie Cahlil

"While some delight in autumn, and feel able to welcome September as autumn's gentle gateway, others do not. Perhaps there are past associations, such as the freedom of school summer holidays ending as September arrives."

If you experience reluctance, he adds, "you may find it helpful to acknowledge how our seasons create flow and fluctuation, variety and difference in our lives."

Accredited Counsellor Maureen Cahill adds: "Despite the anticipation of post-summer blues for many people, September can instead be anticipated as a time of new beginnings: new school term, new year at uni or perhaps a new job."

In many ways, she suggests, autumn can be treated like the start of a new year - a time for fresh starts: "It's a good time to make new plans for any changes that might be beneficial: exercise, new hobbies, new routines for autumn and winter."


Equip yourself against the winter blues 

Of course, that can be easier said than done, and accepting the coming of autumn may still prove difficult. "The end of summer can be a little sad for all of us; gone are the long evenings and the warmth of the sunny days," says Chartered Psychologist Marina Claessens.

"However, it can be a particularly tricky time for those who suffer with recurrent depression as the longer hours of darkness can trigger low mood."

If that is a problem for you, she says, "it may be worth investing in a medically certified sun or SAD lamp. This can help with limiting the detrimental effect of the dramatic difference in daylight that we in the UK experience between summer and winter." 

Mo adds: "Rather than catastrophising about the lack of light, it's important to remind yourself that there is a natural rhythm to the seasons and it's always cyclical, so it's not permanent!" Talking through coping strategies with a therapist may also be helpful ahead of the darker days, to equip you against low mood and negative thoughts.

Click here for more information and advice on managing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or seasonal depression.


Keep busy and active

If you are affected by seasonal depression, Chartered Psychologist Kyriaki Iordanidou suggests spending as much time in the sun as possible and exercising regularly. "Go for a walk or out for a coffee during the daytime, especially if it is a sunny day. 30 minutes of daily exercise is enough to help your body produce serotonin and endorphins, which act as brain mood stabilisers," she says.

"Spend time with family and friends with whom you know you will have a good time; eat well, including foods high in omega 3 fats, which help with mood; and reduce stress levels by doing fun activities," she adds, and don't be afraid to ask for help, including professional help where necessary, if you feel particularly low.

Even for those not affected by depression, the end of summer can seem like the perfect time to retreat into a state of hibernation. "As that first chill gets in the air, we are often tempted to retreat into the comfort of our homes and veg out in front of the telly, rather than braving the elements to socialise and exercise," Marina says.

Likewise, Mo recommends making lists or plans to help ease the shift from one season to the next. "Plan for autumn walks in green spaces, or cycle rides, meeting up with friends and arranging dinners," she suggests. 

"Isolation can be another trigger for low mood as it is a sedentary lifestyle," Marina says. "If you can feel the sluggishness creeping up on you, find ways of motivating yourself to get out. Sign up for workshops, courses or social activities, and find a way to ensure you get some exercise."

She adds: "After all, there are plenty of indoors facilities where you can run, cycle or play sports, so I'm afraid the rain is just not a good enough excuse!"


Reflect on the reality you're returning to 

"It's not unusual, after a holiday, to begin to question the meaning that is associated with the reality that you're returning to," says Registered Psychotherapist Jared Green. "In fact, it's common knowledge for HR professionals that the highest staff attrition rates are in September and January, after breaks where people have reflected on their lives."

He adds: "In this sense, recognition of returning to an unsatisfactory 'reality', may evoke a sense of bleakness, which could in fact be useful. Encountering negative feelings, and giving space to the issues that emerge around them, can help motivate change."

It's very easy, in the midst of everyday life, to dismiss niggling concerns and dissatisfaction, so the end of the summer can provide you with the time and space to think more clearly and deeply on whether you need to make some kind of change. "At first this may seem daunting, but in time it may be that bleakness has helped you realise greater meaning," Jared says.

"Sifting through the difference between a post-holiday adjustment and a deeper issue around life meaning is a daunting task to undertake alone but psychotherapy can help, just as it can help to navigate further life changes if they become necessary."

Finding support

If you are concerned about the issues raised in this article then you may like to read about finding the right therapist for you. If this route is not appropriate for you, your GP can assess you and direct you towards support.

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Updated 27 August 2015