“The Crickets sang in the grasses. They sang the song of summer’s ending, a sad, monotonous song. ‘Summer is over and gone,’ they sang. ‘Over and gone, over and gone Summer is dying, dying.’ The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last forever. Even on the most beautiful days of the whole year-the days when summer is changing into fall-the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change.” -Charlotte’s Web, E.B.White.
The Autumn equinox has arrived. As the crickets remind us it is a time of sadness and change for me. While my home in the Washington DC area doesn’t feel like true Autumn yet, my recent visit to Chicago reminded me that Fall is indeed upon us. I really do not like Fall. I readily admit that I am a summer girl. The late summer crickets and cicadas and the shortening days of the year signal what is to come next. I talk a lot about healthiness in terms of what we put in our bodies but I have not talked much of late about the psychological health. For me the fall is the time to make sure I am nourishing my soul. Fall is depressing to me. I don’t know if it’s the etched in memories of going back to school as a child or the getting back into the daily grind. I do not like being chilly and I do not like cool mornings. Putting on a sweatshirt makes me grumpy. So what do you do when these inevitable changes effect your mood? You need to feed your soul just like you feed your physical body. Feeding your soul means taking that time for yourself each day. It can be small little things that make all the difference. For me, some days there is nothing more soul satisfying that putting my hands around a warm cup of my favorite tea and inhaling the aroma in silence. The cup of tea though is not enough sometimes. Taking time for yourself to reenergize is hard when you have a busy schedule of juggling work and family. Sometimes we need to breathe more.
Until I became a health coach I really did not give much credit to the power of breathing. After listening to a lecture by Dr. Andrew Weil last fall, I really began to see the benefit of deep breathing for cleansing your thoughts an resetting your intensions for the day. The great part about breathing exercises is that you can do them in the car, on the train, outside your office door (I do this often), or anywhere. It puts you in a more positive mindset for whatever you need to face for the day. It can cleanse away tension and anger. Here is a link to the breathing techniques.
Beyond good breathing, food does indeed nourish the soul. What you put in your body absolutely has an impact on your psyche. The current research is all strongly pointing to the importance of gut health on mental function. We are discovering more and more about how having thriving gut microbes affects all sorts of neurological things. Most of our dopamine and serotonin receptors are in our guts, not our brains. Therefore, the human gut is now being called the second brain. The gut biome can positively or negatively effect all sorts of diseases and disorders such as ADHD, depression, anxiety, and possibly even Alzheimer’s just to name a few.
Not enough people pay attention to the diet-mental health connection. To have a healthy brain you need to feed it healthy things. This is where plants are by far the best things you can put in your body. I do feel that animal protein can be part of a healthy diet but there is nothing like colorful plants to nourish the brain and second brain. Eating the rainbow become so important when nourishing your mental health. Leafy greens like Kale and Chard, White plants like cauliflower, leeks, onions, and garlic and deep purples like eggplant and blueberries all really nourish the gut like no other foods can do.
With the plants should also be a good intake of Omega 3 fats. We have been bred over the last 30 years to be afraid of fat. However, the recent findings show that good fats are essential for mental health function. Eating fatty fishes and foods like flax seed and chia are essential. If you don’t like eating fish I encourage you to get a high quality fish oil supplement to take everyday.
Lastly, for good mental health there is the power of the sun. Humans need sunlight. Sunlight produces Vitamin D in the body. Vitamin D is a key component in mental health. We have been told that we should be wearing sunscreen at all times. The only problem with wearing sunscreen at all times is it blocks the production of Vitamin D. So many cosmetics have sunscreen in them now. So in the cooler months, even if you take a walk outside, you face is not able to absorb enough sunlight to produce more Vitamin D. I use to laugh a my good friends father who would be outside in the dead of Chicago winter with his down coat unzipped to reveal bare chest. He would often also have a little foil shield reflecting the sun back on his face and chest. While I am sure he was working on his winter tan, he may have had the right mental health idea. Another friend from South America told me that her mom use to have them take off their shirts in the winter and sit in the warm sun coming in the windows on cold winter days. She observed that the dog always went to the sunny spots in the house in the winter. Intuitively this made sense to her. There is something warming and soul nourishing about sitting in that sun coming in the window. Glass atriums, bay windows, and skylights in homes can really raise spirits on a chilly day. I think a little house reconstruction is in my future.
So as the days grow shorter and the air gets cooler, I will be working on doing the following things:
- Setting my intentions everyday and taking time for myself
- Practicing breathing exercises several times a day
- Eating half the plate in plants
- Consuming a good dose of Omega 3 fats
- Getting enough Vitamin D; expose skin to at least 15 minutes of sunlight a day and take a good quality Vitamin D supplement.
With the above plan I hope to go into my least favorite months of the year with a healthy mental outlook. Happy Autumn!