We’re one month into autumn. School and work and life schedules have reverted to some sort of “normal” structure. Sweaters and suits have come out of closets to replace bikinis and sunglasses. Leaves are changing from green to red, gold, and brown, or, depending on where you are, have already begun to fall. There’s a heavy note of regularity in the air, a feeling of going back and yet of being in between: in between summer vacations and winter festivities; in between seaside escapism and the dazzling magic of year-end holidays; in between two periods generally marked by personal enjoyment and satisfaction.
For many, fall can feel like a sort of limbo — an annual phase centered on obligation and stagnation rather than on exploration and growth. Summer is for fantasy, winter is for celebration, spring is for renewal, and fall… Well, here we are.
So, why don’t we get out of this place? Yes, I know: We can’t just turn our heels on the current season and move along to another that’s more to our liking. We can, however, shift our perspective on the season we’re in, and write a new story around it so that we never feel stuck in the middle again.
What does this mean, exactly? The experience will be different for everyone. For me, it has meant laying the groundwork for a major change: a cross-country move from North Carolina to Oregon. I’ve already cleaned out my storage unit, signed the lease on an apartment, instructed my cats to start packing, and sketched out the route for my early-December road trip. In other words, I’m preparing for a big adventure!
Such a drastic undertaking may not be in the offing for you and your family anytime soon. My example is, admittedly, pretty extreme. But anyone can spark a sense of excitement and expansiveness and vitality in their world without altering its physical dimensions or geographic coordinates. Read on for a few simple tips on how to redefine fall.
Establish New Traditions
This is an idea that I encourage all of my clients who have lost loved ones to explore. It’s an important step in the journey through grief as it helps to release the sadness and pain surrounding rituals tied to a departed person. Whether you’ve experienced loss or not, however, creating a new tradition or two will inevitably refresh static energy and generate enthusiasm.
Finding a local cider mill and planning a family trip is a great way to celebrate the spirit of fall rather than to let the seasonal onset of school and work responsibilities weigh you down. Splurging on a set of pumpkins and challenging your kids to a friendly carving competition is another festive option. (Just make sure that you have enough “awards” to go around — sticky-note badges for the prettiest, silliest, and scariest pumpkins, for instance.) Or designate a weekly “fall foods” day on which each family member has a chance to choose a particular dish to cook (and eat!) together.
If some of these fall rituals are already standard for your family, consider enhancing or embellishing them to deepen their meaning. Turn your trip to the cider mill into a more active endeavor by adding apple picking to the excursion. Up the ante on your carving competition by inviting the next-door neighbors to partake. Create a family recipe book out of your weekly culinary projects — a tangible bit of history that can be handed down through the generations.
Opportunities to plant seeds of tradition can be found everywhere, at any time of year. No need to wait for spring to get started!
Be Present… While Planning Ahead
Never underestimate the power of positive anticipation. Where my upcoming move is concerned, planning has been a huge part of the fun. From making furniture decisions to making virtual connections with people I will get to know face-to-face once I’ve settled into my new hometown, every aspect of the world I will soon be inhabiting is aglow with the bright energy of beginning.
Don’t get me wrong: Being in the moment is one of the basic principles of my philosophy. But envisioning future stages of your life absolutely fits into the concept of “being present,” especially when that visualization entails taking tangible action to set yourself up for success.
For the thrifty parent, this might mean taking advantage of clearance sales on warm-weather items that you know your family will need in the year to come. With winter on the horizon, stores are eager to get rid of everything from outdoor grills and lawn chairs to frisbees, beach towels, and tank tops — and there’s a certain gratification in making wallet-friendly purchases that you know will prove useful at a not too distant later date. Plus, you’ll be concocting a kind of vacation kick-off event for next summer, when you open storage sheds and closets to rediscover the goodies you scored for a song.
Averting the potential pressures of the looming holidays with fun family prep work can also be a big win. Yes, you heard me right: fun prep work. Tasks like writing Christmas or Hanukkah cards, narrowing down or building up guest lists for gatherings (whether virtual or in-person), curating the perfect New Year’s Eve party playlist — each of these things can be accomplished well in advance, and each of them can be turned into an engaging activity. Challenge your children to design their own cards this year, giving them a small budget for their favorite supplies (and so weaving in a bonus economy lesson on the value gap between glitter glue and metallic pens); or craft that playlist round-robin style, with each family member adding a tune to the track list in turn until you have an entire evening of musical entertainment lined up. The best part of all this scheming: Your stressed-out December self will thank you for having taken the initiative.
The idea here is to make planning ahead enjoyable so that you can be fully present both during the process and when you reach the finish line.
Soak Up Some Sun and Stay Social
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — it’s a thing! Some of you are probably familiar with the symptoms whether or not you’re aware of their origin. Inexplicable sadness, fatigue and low stamina, an unsettling mix of sleep disruption and restlessness, a sense of hopelessness, a desire to hibernate… These are just a few indicators that you, your partner, or your children may be experiencing SAD, which is, essentially, a type of depression brought on by the decrease in daylight that begins at the tail end of summer and lasts through much of winter.
While we can’t stop the earth’s rotation in order to accommodate our very real daily need for natural rays, we can take simple steps to ensure that we and our loved ones don’t succumb to this sneaky serotonin stealer:
- Seek out a bit of sunshine every day. Even five minutes spent basking in golden solar glory can boost your mood and remind your body why it’s awake. If you’re in a part of the world where being outside eventually becomes unbearable due to sub-zero temperatures, or you’re trapped in an office or school building with little chance of escape, find a window. The sun is more potent than a few panes of glass.
- Get physical. Those moments when you’re least inclined to move are often the most critical in keeping your mind and body happy and healthy. Avoid inertia by designating regular physical activity time for you and your children. Taking the dog for a quick walk on school mornings, scheduling a nightly baseball break between homework assignments, and turning on an upbeat soundtrack to make dinner prep a danceable experience are all fair game. No need to get fancy; just get moving!
- Stay connected. Humans are social creatures. The urge to hide under a blanket by yourself all day may feel right or safe in the moment, but making that choice on a daily basis can seriously deplete your spirits in the long term. Ensure that everyone in your family is getting their fair share of socialization by establishing weekly playdates for your kids and for yourself (because grownups get to play, too).
There are, of course, other creative ways to combat autumn blues, but these are my go-tos. With a simple shift of focus, this can be a beautiful season — an opportunity to fall forward with a fresh perspective rather than to fall back into old routines and habits.