As the sun-warmed breezes churn into the cool, dry gusts of fall, it’s not just our cravings for warm baked goods and pumpkin-spiced everything that gets stirred up. We may feel an initial flurry of excitement as the first brown leaf falls to our feet, eagerly swapping out our well-worn flip-flops for ankle boots, our tank tops for those sweaters we haven’t seen in ages—but we may also feel a melancholic sadness arising. After all, this is the season when the green abundance of nature dies, when animals go into hiding or migrate, and the long, loose, elastic days of summer are reigned back in to fixed schedules, routines, and responsibilities.
In Chinese medicine, autumn is the season of grief—it is characterized by its dryness, and is experienced as both an emotional state (sadness), and also in lung-based ailments. Ayurvedic medicine, the ancient holistic health system of India, also sees fall as the dry/wind season (Vata season), a time when when anxiety, nervousness, sleeplessness, and even paranoia are at their peak.
You may experience that “windy” feeling as a flurry of anxious energy in the tummy, as worries that you can’t seem to shake, or you may have a hard time getting a solid night’s rest. While autumn can be a beautiful time of year, it is also when self-care becomes a priority.
During these ever-shortening days, pay close attention to your emotional and mental states. If you notice the “wind” getting stronger inside, here are some suggestions as to how you might approach feeling more grounded and balanced:
1. Take It Off-Line
Limit your exposure to social media and overall hours of screen time. Research has shown that extensive use/exposure to social media outlets can cause anxiety, depression, loneliness, and even paranoia. As these states are naturally heightened at this time of year, consider setting parameters to monitor and control the amount of time you spend online. In fact, you may even want to consider a full break—a sort of media diet cleanse.
It can be a real struggle when we rely so heavily on our devices, but you’ll be psychologically refreshed, and reminded of all the other things you can do to occupy yourself. Before bed, set your phone to silent, reduce brightness on screens if you need to stay connected, or switch to night-viewing mode, all of which will help to improve your chances of a good sleep.
2. Get Cooking
You may notice a natural, nesting-like desire to cook and bake once the cool air begins to blow, and according to Ayurveda, this is just your natural state of understanding how to take care of yourself as wind energy increases.
Eating warm, well-cooked food is excellent for your digestion, and helps to pacify anxious energy. Incorporate warming spices like cinnamon, ginger, cloves, fennel, cardamom, and cayenne to help stoke the internal fires, and whip up some stews and soups incorporating root vegetables to help you feel more grounded. Chai tea is a great substitute for coffee at this time of year—caffeine can exacerbate spacey/wired energy, and a chai latte (with warm milk or a milk substitute) could be just what you need to settle. Sipping on a steaming cup of broth instead of coffee later in the afternoon is another great alternative.
3. Dig Out Your Scarves
Both Chinese medicine and Ayurveda emphasize the importance of keeping the throat warm to keep the wind out. The back of the neck is considered a vulnerable place for wind energy to affect the body, and a stiff neck is often one of the first symptoms of an illness coming on. Especially if you’ve just exercised and your pores are open, it’s important to wrap your neck before heading out. When I started abiding by this advice, I began to notice a difference in my nervous system—I felt much calmer out in the world when my neck was warm and protected. It’s like being nuzzled in a blanket, a much-needed hug of comfort when the breeze picks up.
4. Find Your Own Feel-Good First Aid Kit
In addition to anxiety and worry, we can be prone to depression at this time of year. Take stock of what really makes you feel secure and comfortable, and you’ve got an individualized recipe for better mood-maintenance. Gather up the vials of scents that calm you, wrap yourself in the fabrics that warm you, listen to the sounds that put you at ease. Maybe you would like to carry some lavender essential oil in your bag to encourage calm throughout your day, or spray a bit on your sheets in the evening to help you unwind. Keep some pouches of your favorite tea in your purse so that you can grab a cup of calm throughout your day whenever you find yourself feeling anxious.
I’ve noticed, for example, that I feel comforted whenever I’m wearing wool—the smell, the feel of the fibers on my skin, and the warmth are heaven to me; drinking vegetable broth helps to keep my chills at bay; carrying a good book in my bag allows me to spend time with beautiful words rather than my screen, which relaxes my nervous system; the smell of cedar, birch, or fir essential oils makes me feel more present and grounded. And if I can’t settle at night, the sound of a televised hockey game playing low in the background eases my nerves, as it reminds me of the comforts of my childhood home. This is my own personalized comfort protocol that I can turn to when needed. Get to know what settles your soul!
5. Dial It All Down
When the living-large, can-do vibes of summer wane, honor the natural cycle of nature and allow yourself to rest and restore. Fall marks the energetic shift from expression to introspection, from expansion to retraction, from boldness to protection. This is a great time of year to journal, to take long, reflective walks in nature (with your phone turned off!), and reconnect with friends and family that make you feel loved and supported.
Slow down your pace and breathe more deeply (let your exhalations be longer than your inhalations whenever you’re feeling anxious, as it will help to settle your nervous system.) Consider incorporating more soothing forms of exercise into your current regimen: restorative or yin yoga, light swimming, strolling, or biking can have very relaxing, meditative qualities.
If we tune in and tend to our needs when we first begin to notice the seasonal imbalance of dry/wind energy arising, we can find our way through with level-headedness, stable moods, and healthy lungs. Eat and drink warming things, wrap up, ensure you get enough sleep, and set aside time for comfort, peace, and quiet, and you’ll be able to enjoy all the beauty that the harvest season has to offer… without the worry!10