Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda both do a good job of explaining the energetic qualities of these seasons and how they manifest in the body. I'm not an expert in either of these medical systems. Over the 15 years or so that I've worked in holistic health care, I've picked up a thing or two that has influenced how I think about wellness and nutrition. In working with clients, we sometimes can't explain why one day a way of eating works for a person and the next they feeling poorly eating the same exact foods. Ruling out physiological and biochemical imbalances, we're often led to view the imbalance from a more energetic perspective. That's when I draw on these traditions for insight and direction.
For me in my personal life, seasonal eating satisfies my desire to connect with nature. It also aligns with my food values, supporting my commitment to local and sustainable food systems. These topics exceed the attention span of this article, but I promise to circle back in future posts to elaborate.
Autumn in the Spirit
Autumn carries a level of melancholy - not just because after autumn comes winter, a season most Northerns both love and dread. Looking around at the landscape, trees are losing their leaves and plants are dying back for winter survival. This is a time for reflection and inner work. You may be surprised by existential crises that make you question everything in your life. Tears may flow more freely as old hurts resurface from out of nowhere. You may be tasked with letting go of the past - no simple thing.
Spiritual Self-care Suggestions:
- Schedule some therapy sessions to move the emotions and tell your hurts to a caring professional.
- Start journaling. Use the page to offload your thoughts, memories, emotions. Tell your story.
- Move your body! Dance, walk in the sunshine, do yoga, lift weights...those memories and emotions are remembered by your cells. Engage with them to heal.
Autumn in the Mind
This can also be a really creative time of year, but your creativity may be disorganized and hard to contain. The blustery winds of this season are stirring things up...and not necessarily putting them back down where you expect them to be. Anxiety may be heightened, thoughts may be clouded by emotion. Don't feel surprised if you crave dissociative behaviors like drinking alcohol or doom scrolling. I'm not saying these are activities that are going to help you, but their attraction will be heightened, so have grace with yourself around these cravings.
Mental Self-care Suggestions:
- Make to-do lists and cross 50% off before even getting started!
- Celebrate small progress towards a goal. Tackling big projects may leave you feeling frustrated and disappointed, so break down these into bite-sized chunks you can accomplish with more ease.
- Rest. Rest. Rest.
- Move your body (I'm a big advocate for movement). Vigorous exercise stimulates endorphin release and helps burn up excess neurotransmitters that are agitating and anxiety-provoking.
- Approach caffeine, sugar and alcohol with caution. Caffeine and sugar are stimulating and may worsen your experience with anxiety and reduce your stress resilience. Alcohol robs your body of nutrients needed to bounce back when stressed.
Autumn in the Body
Physically, autumn may present as symptoms in the lungs or colon: respiratory infections, shortness of breath, constipation, gas, bloating...you know, the fun stuff. The dryness may also make you feel more achy and uncomfortable. Supporting your immune system is key (download my Eating for Immunity Guide for some tips on how to do that).
Body Self-care Suggestions:
- Stay hydrated. Your thirst will change as the weather cools, but the dry winds are blowing moisture off your body. Aim for 50% of your body weight up to 100 fl. oz. each day. Water, broth, and herbal teas count. Caffeinated beverages and alcohol put you in a negative balance so you'll need to drink more to account for those. Drinking room temperature or warm water and hot herbal tea can go a long way in improving digestion and keeping you cozy as the weather cools.
- While you may notice a greater need for rest, sleep may be disturbed by vivid dreams. Practice good sleep hygiene and give yourself ample time to wind down at the end of the day so you're ready to sleep by the time your head hits the pillow.
- Epsom salt baths donate magnesium and sulfur to your muscles and joints, easing excess achiness. Add 2 cups to a warm bath and soak for 30+ minutes for maximum benefit.
- Eat cooked foods. These are easier to digest and will help ease any discomfort you might be feeling in your gut. If you feel especially sensitive to this season, cook warm, wet foods like soups, stews, steamed veggies and braised meats to further ease digestion.
- Cook with warming spices: chilies, black pepper, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, coriander, cumin, nutmeg. This is a good time of year for curry!
- Ditch salads and raw veggies for roots and storage veggies. You'll find beets, carrots, parsnips, potatoes of all colors, sweet potatoes, onions, leeks and winter squash at the farmers market through October. Stock up! These veggies store well in the appropriate conditions (check out this article for some tips).
- Eat dark leafy greens every day - preferably cooked. The bitterness they impart stimulates your digestion.
- Brassicas also come into season in Autumn. Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, winter radishes, turnips, rutabaga...if you've talked nutrition with me you've heard of my love (obsession?!) with this plant family. Brassicas donate sulfur to the detoxification pathway in the liver. Detoxification from an energetic position is a recycling process by which we transform the things we have assimilated into byproducts we can then eliminate. Supporting detoxification in the body is as important for moving emotions and energy, as it is for eliminating environmental toxins, balancing hormones and dealing with other internal riffraff.
- Crave casseroles and meatloaf? Enjoy! See where you can toss in some extra, colorful veggies to round out the nutrition of one-pot meals and serve everything you eat with a veggie-heavy side dish. This will help you digest heavier meals and balance out what you crave with what you need.
Finally, autumn is a season of preparation. I think most Northerners experience some level of seasonal depression, which will likely be exacerbated this year due to our limits for socializing during a pandemic. In addition to finishing house projects and getting things in order for a rejuvenating winter, I want you to consider self-care techniques you can employ to nourish your mood through the cold, dark months ahead. Simple things like supplementing with vitamin D, cultivating a gratitude practice and drafting a list of nice things you can do for others (the most effective way to increase happiness) is a good place to start.
I hope these adjustments to how you care for yourself help you navigate Autumn this year with more ease, balance and pleasure.