The autumnal equinox has been and gone, trees are a riotous blaze of colour and pumpkins are hollowed and forgotten.
In our work as therapists, the autumn months can be a busy time of year. Enquiries for counselling increase as individuals reflect on issues or difficulties that need to be addressed - those which they may have had every intention of addressing when the year started.
This period of reflection appears to coincide with the months of harvest. Just as we harvest the land and gather our food resources for the coming months thoughts may turn to what we have nurtured, or not nurtured, through earlier months – our experiences, our relationships, our achievements and what we may need in order to see us through to the end of year – possibly a time to pause and restock. What changes do I need to make? What would make me happy or happier? What did I want to achieve that I haven’t yet done so? What is getting in the way of all of these things? And, how on earth, am I going to make those changes? Being able to answer those questions may feel overwhelming or you may feel apprehensive as you consider acknowledging the issues that need addressing or the actions you may need to make. The sense that such issues need to be addressed may also coincide with a need for external environments to be adequately organised and resourced – just as we might ensure our homes are well stocked - as well as more internal psychological resources explored before the hibernation of the darker, colder, more isolating Winter months. What do I need to get me through the Autumn and Winter season?
This period may come after come after our much yearned for summer holidays. Anticipated with levels of high expectations by some; offering us opportunities to connect with others, much needed space away from work pressures and deadlines and an opportunity for the relaxation and rest we have craved for many months. Yet, the lack of structure or routine can be difficult for some to manage, our ability to relax may not happen as we believe it should and the connections to families, friends and loved ones may highlight difficulties in our relationships. Couple this with the transition back to a normal routine with all the responsibilities and logistical difficulties that come with it and our issues – either with ourselves or others – can become more evident.
The change of season can also leave people feeling deflated. The reduction in light during the autumn and winter months affects our circadian rhythms and reduces our hormone levels; most noticeably melatonin and serotonin. Subsequently, our bodies own way of keeping us alert and energised (melatonin) and regulating our mood (serotonin) becomes disrupted leaving us feeling lethargic and low in mood which can then impact on other day-to-day functioning. The relaxing, carefree months of summer when moods may have been more buoyant, outings were plentiful and holidays were being looked forward to are no longer available to distract us and may feel like a distant memory. As the light wanes as the days become shorter we may go out less, spend more time indoors and therefore become more isolated. We all need time on our own in order to take time out but social relationships are needed to combat loneliness and offer us much needed support in times of need. If these aren’t available to us this can make it difficult to connect to others and in turn, give us the support we need when things feel difficult or in need of addressing.
So as the year draws to an end the sense of wanting to reflect and bring about change may feel very present. Whether seeking to understand yourself better, work on your relationships or trying to make important life changes, particularly if they alleviate your own low mood and anxiety, accessing some counselling at this time of year can be a really useful and valuable experience.