Technically, it’s not fall yet. In fact, it’s still warm here in St. Louis. Pools are still open, and we’re a good month or longer away from sweater weather. However, that’s not stopping me or my friends from putting up our fall décor.
There’s just something magical about PSL season. Even if you aren’t a fan of the flavor, many of us love the orange, black, brown, and white décor, boots and scarfs, and gearing up for Halloween and Thanksgiving. I can’t wait for our annual family trip to the apple orchard. It turns out, if you feel a wave of joy this time of year, every year, you aren’t alone. Putting up your fall décor is good for your mental health. However, if that’s not enough for you, it’s time to make some changes.
I checked in with Dr. Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist in New York City. I wanted to know, what is it about fall that gives us fresh perspective and a spring in our step? She shared with me that “making changes that are within your comfort zone” can give us “a project and a purpose.” As with any seasonal transition, we can feel burned out, maybe even disappointed. As summer slips away, giving our homes a pick-me-up can bring about a cheerful vibe that lifts our mood. It also sets us on a path of “positive change and growth.”
With the pandemic, many of us have been spending more time at home. My husband has been working from home for over a year and half, I also work from home, and we have kids home off and on depending on the schooling situation. All this to say, we spend a lot, and I mean a lot, of time at home. Given this, I am itching to change up our décor, our inner environment, more than ever before. Dr. Hafeez put me at ease when she shared that “a fresh look can be very therapeutic.”
We know we aren’t alone. Many of my family members and friends are now also calling their homes their work offices. Dr. Hafeez says, “a home needs to feel like a sanctuary.” How can we accomplish this? She says ditching the clutter is important. Throw out anything broken, donate unused items to charity, and then “re-configure” your home to “best suit the needs of each family member.” (Don’t forget your furry friends, too!)
Lighting is “important for mood,” including utilizing dimmers to “create a nice ambience.” Of course, she recognizes that most of us don’t have thousands of dollars laying around to hire an interior decorator or professional organizer. Take matters into your own hands. She advises us to “take the time to look at each room of your home,” and then consider what you can do, within your budget, to “create a serene, happy, comfortable environment.” I don’t know about you, but I get an adrenaline rush when I clean out even a small space, like a closet or a single surface. It feels good to have a blank slate.
Fall can bring about a chill in the air, one that prompts us to make choices to be more comfortable and cozy. Plus, we just experienced our second pandemic summer. Dr. Hafeez shared with me that summer was really challenging this year, because some of us experienced major FOMO. We would notice on our social media accounts that some people were on vacations, for example, and we yearned to have that experience. (I felt seriously convicted when she shared this with me, as we haven’t been on vacation in close to two years.) Some of us couldn’t travel due to job obligations, financial constraints, and — the big one — the Delta variant.
While summer may have been a time of jealousy, frustration, and defeat, autumn signals change, like kids heading back to school. Plus, fall is perhaps a “great equalizer” in terms of normalcy. Fall is a predictable season — much more than summer.
If throwing out a gingham print throw, recycling old magazines, and lighting a maple candle isn’t enough for our mental health, what else can we do? Dr. Hafeez offers some fantastic ideas. First, she suggest we find a person we can schedule walks with. Exercise has so many benefits, including boosting feel good hormones, keeping our weight and blood sugar in check, getting us out into the fresh air and sunlight, helping reduce stress, and improving sleep. She also shares that we can consider “sight seeing in your own city.” You don’t have to travel far and wide, or expensively, to enjoy change.
It’s important to make some fall plans, because “anxiety and depression feed on inactivity.” While we may want to binge Netflix while we’re curled up on the couch with wine and chips, night after night, it’s “the worst possible choice.” We need to move and be social — safely. Consider online meet ups with people who have “like-minded interests.”
Of course, she recognizes that these pick-me-ups may not be enough. You can have the ideal home with Pinterest-worthy fall décor, wonderful relationships, and a solid workout routine and still struggle with anxiety or depression. Anxiety may cause “racing heart, trembling, racing thoughts, inability to concentrate and focus, and trouble sleeping.” Depression can cause “change in appetite, sleep patterns, mood swings, irritability, feeling tired most of the time, and feeling that there is nothing to look forward to or no purpose in life.” If you’re experiencing symptoms of either — or both — if you always feel you are “in a funk,” seek help from a licensed therapist. Some are seeing clients via video or phone chat, if that’s something you prefer.
If you have experienced new or worsening anxiety or depression right now, because of the pandemic, you aren’t alone. Dr. Hafeez has seen a lot of people experiencing “grief over the loss of a loved one, health anxiety, feelings of isolation, financial woes, divorces” as well as issues with family including being “stuck at home in cramped space,” work and childcare issues, hospitalizations due to illness, and some PTSD after hospitalization. She remarks that there is “hardly an aspect of overall mental health that the pandemic did not affect” and is still affecting.
Putting some twinkly lights on your mantle, sipping chai, buying yourself a new cardi, or whatever else you do to celebrate fall is perfectly fine, and in fact, may boost your mental wellbeing. If these aren’t enough, it’s time to reflect and then take action. Dr. Hafeez says, “Each individual knows their body and mind best.” It’s important we honor what our bodies and minds are telling us and then take care of them.