OPINION: Don't be an autumn hermit! We should embrace the darker months
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It’s officially autumn and it feels like it.
But there’s much about this season to welcome and celebrate. We can feast our eyes on gorgeous ‘fall’ colours in our gardens and woodlands.
And if you’re a woman, you can return to wearing black opaque tights - surely one of the greatest inventions ever!
Then there’s the Danish concept of snuggling down and creating comfort and warmth in the face of dismal weather.
That was a big trend a few years ago, and we all learned a new word, ‘hygge’, to describe it. It can feel delightfully reassuring to light a pine-scented candle, slow-cook a casserole, don colourful socks, an extra warm jumper and wrap a blanket around yourself while watching TV.
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But beware – we are all going to need more than hygge to get us through the next few months. In fact, too much of it could be a bad thing.
Why? Because no matter how comfy our homes may be, being there much more than usual can result in us feeling isolated and depressed. And, frankly, it’s all too easy to give up on activities that perk us up, and to stay home more, once the nights draw in.
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So, I’m using this column to try to encourage everyone – but particularly those who live by themselves – to think now about how to keep their lives balanced and enjoyable through the dark months ahead.
Let’s start with the need to see the people who are important to us.
Now, you might say, we’re all good at Face Time, WhatsApp and Zoom these days and so we can continue to connect with these individuals, even though it’s hard to meet them face to face.
And that is true. But amazing though these technological wonders are, psychologists maintain that they’re not nearly as beneficial as actually being with our loved ones in real life.
They claim that when we’re in the same room as people who matter to us, we generate more oxytocin in our blood streams.
This is important because oxytocin, often known as the ‘bonding’ hormone, helps to reduce harmful stress chemicals in our bodies, which can be damaging both to our mental and physical health.
So even though dark nights and bad weather mean we’re unlikely to see as much of our friends and family during the winter months, unless they live around the corner, we should put effort into planning special weekends, a big gathering at Christmas or perhaps a journey to meet them half-way for a meal or a walk from time to time.
Getting definite dates in the diary like these can lift our spirits and give us something to look forward to.
Apart from the people we need, it’s also crucial to punctuate our days with other cheering highlights.
We should certainly build daylight and exercise into our timetable as they usually elevate our mood. We have to work out though how to do it. Dog walks might have to be re-scheduled so we’re not doing them after dark.
And, if you’re anything like me, you may need to buy some stouter outdoor gear if you’re going to persuade yourself to brave the elements for energising winter walks. I’m sure it’s worth the investment. Remember the old maxim: there is no such thing as bad weather, just inadequate clothing!
Lack of light is a huge problem for some people because it makes them miserable, so if you’re already dreading the darker days, you might consider purchasing a lamp designed to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder. Some people swear by these though they don’t work for everyone. Prices start around £60.
Finally, as travelling is so often difficult at this time of year, I urge you to ‘think local’ and embrace everything your own city, town or village can offer.
Many of us did this during the lockdowns. But it’s more interesting now because so much more is happening.
Obviously, if you live somewhere like Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds, Norwich or King's Lynn you can get to restaurants, a cinema, the theatre or to a concert by walking, or driving a short way. It’s harder to organise such events if you live outside those areas – especially if you hate night-driving, which many of us do.
So, investigating local activities is the way to go. I’ve done a bit of research on this and have been really surprised by the number of villages that have a WI, slimming and gardening clubs, book groups, Pilates and yoga classes, and charity coffee mornings.
Also, many local pubs are offering live entertainment again, and a number of churches are advertising choir concerts. With all these options, it makes sense to check what’s on near you.
Getting involved in our own community helps us feel we belong and increases our sense of well-being. It also brings much-needed variety into the darker days and nights.
It is, without doubt, harder to stay buoyant at this time of year. But we are resilient, as we have proved over the past 20 months, and we can do it.